top of page
All Posts: Blog2

[Column] What has gone wrong with Korean debating?

Disclaimer: These are just what I felt while several years of debating in Korea. My views might be biased, since I also have limited experience, and apparently my anger at the status quo has been added onto it. Regardless, I believe the fact that there is someone who thinks in such a way already means that it is time for some change to happen.

The Korean education system and Korean debate counter each other, and hinders the development of one another. If one had prepared for the Korean or Chinese university entrance exam—named Sooneung and Gaokao, respectively—one would easily comprehend what I wish to convey. When students are in middle school, parents and schools are obsessed with English debate. They treat English debate as if it is a magic ticket to a prestigious Korean high school. The evermore increasing number, ever since English debate has been a source of interest to Korean parents, of middle school debaters and championships epitomizes this trend. Middle school debaters usually then are supplied with an overwhelming pile of competitions and opportunities open for them. But when one enters high school, this door suddenly closes. Getting a good GPA in a Korean high school is extremely, extremely competitive (I have been in both; I would rather take the SAT ten times than attend a Korean high school), and students do not have time to ponder governmental policies in the debating chamber. The Korean government, as a desperate attempt to mitigate competition, introduced a very well-intentioned but a very misguided policy that Korean universities shall not look at any extracurricular competitions that happen out of school grounds. Now, debating competitions are out of interest by the parents, as well. As a result, the number of high school debaters only continue to decrease by each year. Even the YTN debating championship, the biggest debating competition in Korea, decided to close its high school division from last year, since there has been an extremely low rate of participation.

Then, the only two choice left for the scarce high school debaters that choose to remain, is to participate in world competitions or to enter university opens in Korea. But the first road is blocked in many respects. As almost all debaters quit, teams are dissolved and networks between debaters loosen. Eventually, even if one wished to participate a world competition, often they cannot find all three teammates. This is how hard it is to find a high school debater, if he or she has remarkable connections. Also, even if one had a team, how will they find a competition? Even domestic debating competition websites or Facebook pages are hard to find—then, how hard would it be, if one were to find competitions held on the other side of the globe? One would not even know the names of the competitions that are held, and even if they find some—how will they know if the competition suits their skill level, being worth flying several hours?

The other choice of participating in university opens is relatively easier, but still not a good choice. When one participates in local university Open competitions, they often stay within the local communities and are not exposed to views from other cultures or countries. I have watched hundreds of WSDC videos, and what I noticed is that all countries tend to have different styles of speech, content, and direction of case line. A comment that almost all, if not all, of the debaters that have at least once competed in foreign competitions, is that there are several differences between Korean debate and western debate. Western debate tends to focus more on rhetoric and style, while Korea gives less regard to such areas. Only partaking in Korean Open competitions would not develop these skills, nor would it expose young debaters to a wide range of opinions, exclusive to international competitions.

Another unfortunate reality is that Korean debate is extraordinarily polarized, both geographically and economically. Fortunately, I was born in one of the richest regions in Korea under wealthy parents. By the virtue of luck, I could be provided education from good private education institutes. However, I have seen so many debates that have not been as lucky as me. Most good private debating institutes or tutors are exorbitantly expensive and are located in Gangnam (yes, the Gangnam in Gangnam style), the richest neighbourhood in Korea. Granted, tournaments exist to discern the best debaters. Tournaments are inherently built upon the meritocratic value that good ability is worth celebrating. But when skill is developed based on the virtue of luck, I believe it is quite contrary to the meritocratic beliefs that a tournament endorses.

In particular, Korean debate is almost “monopolized” by two or three huge private institutes, often formed in a leave-if-you-want mannerism. And yes—the institutes have grown so big because their coaches are capable than anyone else and train good debaters. In fact, these institutes are remarkably efficient in teaching students. However, at the cost of this speed and efficiency, we have lost individuality. When most of the good debaters are bred in a uniform system under the same coaches; how much individuality would we expect? I myself have the first-hand experience of this uniformity. Korean debaters, mostly, have very similar style. They usually give much regard to rebuttals and individual arguments, but focus less on rhetoric and organization. I started to get 1st best speaker awards when I realized this and began to focus on rhetoric and organization. Because I had something that everyone else did not, I began to receive good awards. This already shows how much uniformity is imbued within Korean debate.


Recent Posts

See All

Although psychological theories such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs state that the prerequisites for human survival are food, shelter, and clothing, moving higher up the motivational pyramid requires

bottom of page