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Opinion: How debate increases students’ academic ability

Studies show that debate participation increases the academic levels of students and helps decrease the education inequality gap, ultimately giving students more opportunities for success in college and the professional world.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/ryysid/" target="_self">Ryyan Siddiqi</a>

Ryyan Siddiqi

October 31, 2022
Across the United States, there are vast inequities in access to and quality of education. While investing in schools that primarily serve students of lower socioeconomic status (SES) is an ideal solution, it requires substantial funding, new resource allocation, and ultimately a long period of time. For an instant low-cost impact, implementing an after school program like debate can help bridge the education inequality gap. Debate has been empirically demonstrated to support the academic improvement of students of diverse backgrounds, which can help provide students the opportunity to make a better life for themselves.  

A 2020 study revealed the truth about the modern school system; it “gives [students] extremely low chances to learn critical life skills” because it is not “preparing [students]” for “real life.” Although “good speaking skills are the top quality employers are seeking … most schools don’t teach oral communication.” This essential academic tool is given little attention by the school system, therefore, implementing debate and public speaking into the American public school system can lead to substantial educational benefits for all students. 

One of the core academic skills that are improved through debate work is reading comprehension. As students increase their commitment and preparation for debate tournaments, they, in turn, improve their reading skills. Through researching and reading across various sources within the internet, for case construction, debate students boost their reading capabilities by 25%. Reading examinations are consistently incorporated into the school system, and directly improving this skill will allow students to have far more success in the classroom. 

With improved literacy, the critical reading skills developed by debaters help them improve their reading scores on the nationally used ACT/SAT tests. On average, debaters score higher on national test exams than non-debate students. In a 2005 study published by Alfred C. Snider in the Minnesota public school system, researchers found that the gross average of debaters’ 2006 GPAs was 0.4 points higher than non-debate students. The combination of higher national test scores and GPAs increases the opportunity for debate students to be accepted into better universities. For students of lower SES, the opportunity of attending a highly regarded university can change their lives, and debate grants them this chance. 

Students in debate also become more committed to and engaged in their classes. In the Chicago public school system, which serves primarily lower SES families, debate students were 70% more likely to graduate and three times less likely to drop out of school compared to their non-debate counterparts. In lower SES regions, increasing student attendance can assist in the project to increase academic ability. Decreasing the dropout rate, particularly in schools situated within low SES communities, is key to building a school culture that will help students reach college. As debate does both, implementing the program in low SES regions, in particular, can help decrease the education inequality gap.

Former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes debate is a “great equalizer” for minority academic achievement from low-income regions. Like Duncan, I am confident that involvement in debate programs increases scholastic achievement for all students. I am a student who reaped the benefits of my school’s debate program. In my work as a debater, I have become more knowledgeable at both an academic and personal level. In addition, I have a greater understanding of diplomatic relations; but more importantly, I have become a better and more disciplined student as a result of debate. I know that by participating in debate, students do better in the classroom, and they ultimately become better suited for the professional world. Debate produces dynamic students who are proficient in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity and civic awareness. This diverse set of skills enhanced through debate practice is unparalleled by other academic courses. When combining all those different abilities, a student with great academic potential is formed.

I know that debate translates to real-world use. While many of the academic benefits of debate are proven on a large scale, for me, I have become more confident in my academic abilities and have improved as a public speaker. I have developed courage through taking part in debate, which has influenced me to use my voice and become a leader within my school. 

Debate skills effortlessly lead individuals into the workforce. Public speaking and research preparation skills are lightly used in the modern public school system. Debate participants become comfortable with culture, economics and politics in a global setting. As a result, students build a well-rounded education of how the different central structures of human society all connect. In total, debate students will inevitably have intellectual improvements, and their potential for untapped academic improvement supports the claim that there should be more debate programs within the United States.

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