Environment: Manzanilla Secondary defends debating title

Friday, 30 June 2017

COMPELLING and well-articulated arguments by Manzanilla Secondary School convinced the judges to declare them champions of the debating finals of the 2017 BP Trinidad and Tobago Schools’ Environmental Awareness Competition held at the Mayaro Resource Centre last week.

Lead Manzanilla debator, Shakela Sumai, who will enter Form Five in the next academic year, was measured and thoughtful about her school’s repeat victory, “Our success is due to our entire team collaborating to research and present our arguments. Having participated and won for two successive years, I can say that this competition compels you to think deeply about the world around you. We came up against some tough competition and we learnt a lot from the points developed and argued by the other schools. Overall, this debating competition presents academic advantages to the students who take part, but the true benefit is its creation of empowered citizens and custodians of the environment.”  

The competition, which is in its 11th year, is sponsored by energy company BP Trinidad and Tobago with endorsement from the Ministry of Education. It is administered across the South Eastern and North Eastern Education Districts by Mayaro-based non-governmental environmental organisation, The Black Deer Foundation. 

Ronda Francis, Corporate Responsibility Manager, bpTT, explained the benefits of the project: “With this competition, we get a combination of education and environmental awareness – two developmental areas that bpTT invests heavily in. In addition to be made aware of leading environmental concerns, students develop a number of critical skills including research, public speaking, creative expression and writing. Over the years we’ve seen that these young people become leaders in raising consciousness about ecological topics that impact the entire nation.”  

Urged on by an interactive audience of students and teachers, Manzanilla Secondary presented a convincing repudiation of the topic question: “Be it resolved that beach nourishment as a mitigation measure does not sufficiently combat coastal erosion.”

Whittled down from 16 initial participants, the finals consisted of six schools debating in pairs with points allocated by a panel of judges. The finals saw a competitive Barrackpore West Secondary copping second place with Cowen Hamilton Secondary in third. Mathura Secondary, Guaico Secondary and Valencia Secondary rounded off the fourth to sixth places respectively.

Chief Judge, Edmund Berahzer, Vice-Principal of Mayaro Secondary School, lauded the schools for their excellent research, preparation and presentation skills and congratulated everyone involved in making the competition a success. “There was very little separating the various schools and it was a tough job for us. The abilities inculcated here will serve them throughout their lives, not only as students, but also as productive and participative citizens. This BPTT competition is serving to raise awareness about issues that are affecting people from a community to a global scale and more importantly, it is creating ambassadors seeking to solve these issues,” Berahzer explained.

Apart from the debating component, the competition also incorporates categories of Art/Poster and Essay Writing, all aligned under the theme for 2017: ‘Erosion and its Impacts on Coastal Communities’. Open to students between the ages of seven and 18, this year’s competition saw the participation of more than 30 primary and secondary schools, ranging geographically from Barrackpore to Toco.

According to Black Deer’s founder and president, Arvolon Wilson-Smith, “The competition has expanded every year and in addition to the environmental awareness of participants, there are tangible results such as increased success in English and Art by students. It also promotes interaction, collaboration and respect among the students, and forges meaningful linkages that bode well for the future of our country.”

“With this competition, we get a combination of education and environmental awareness – two developmental areas that bpTT invests heavily in. In addition to be made aware of leading environmental concerns, students develop a number of critical skills including research, public speaking, creative expression and writing. Over the years we’ve seen that these young people become leaders in raising consciousness about ecological topics that impact the entire nation.”