Debating the evidence: an international review of current situation and perceptions

Rodie Akerman

Ian Neale

The purpose of this research was to undertake a review of what is currently known, in the hope of providing a focus for the ongoing development of debate activities.

In today’s global society, the latest news stories and events from across the world, along with the opinions of others, are the subjects of constant debate. The internet and social media have brought people from all walks of life together to discuss, criticise and comment in a way never before known; whoever and wherever they are, individuals are almost always able to join in and make their voices heard. This places increasing demands on the individual, and the ability to analyse information and communicate knowledge effectively is a key feature of modern life.

At the same time, in the UK, concerns are expressed that young people who may be comfortable in front of a screen are lacking in the communication skills needed in the workplace and in life. In a world where increased employability is a key issue this is an important point and one that is highlighted by the most recent Confederation of British Industry (CBI)/Education Development International (EDI) Annual Education and Skills Survey1, which found that 42% of employers are not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers.

It is in this context that activities involving debate, public speaking or other training in oral communication have a role in developing children’s and young people’s skills. Those closely involved in the delivery of debate activities2 often hold strong beliefs regarding their value for young people, whether in terms of supporting their progress in education or in developing qualities such as confidence, which will stand them in good stead throughout life. The literature in this field discusses the fact that there is much testimonial evidence and, while a wealth of anecdotal evidence exists on the value and impact of these activities, no previous work has reviewed and analysed the empirical evidence base.