It was top-tier research and a compelling presentation that saw Mayaro Secondary School emerge as champions of the debate component of the bpTT Schools' Environmental Awareness Competition earlier this month.
In existence since 2006, the competition is endorsed by the Ministry of Education and is administered by Mayaro-based non-governmental organisation, The Black Deer Foundation, and sponsored since inception by energy company bp Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT).
The competition had added significance this year because it came a few weeks after the launch of bp’s sustainability frame which outlines how the company is pursuing sustainability through three broad areas: getting to net zero, improving people’s lives and care for the planet. Since its inception, the competition has proven to be an effective way to give children a voice in the conversation on the environment.
Given the restrictions due to the pandemic, the 2021 version of the competition was re-imagined to make it virtual and therefore accessible to students studying at home. The finals saw Mayaro Secondary pitting their wits against a strong SWAHA Hindu College. Getting a score of 92.8, the Mayaro team edged out SWAHA by a mere 1.6 points. Cowen Hamilton Secondary (91.1) and Rio Claro West Secondary (89.2) rounded up the top four spots.
Matthew Pierre, community liaison co-ordinator, bpTT, lauded the debate competition:
“The environment is the key focus of this competition, which meshes well with our renewed focus on the climate, including the aim to be net zero by 2050. This focus is combined with key academic skills such as research, writing, presentation and communication, while at the same time encouraging students to exercise their creativity and self-expression in a comfortable yet challenging environment.
"Although catalysed by the pandemic, the use of virtual technology this year is a much greener way to facilitate this competition. From the reduction in terms of vehicle emissions from the movement of students to increased accessibility, the creative use of technology has enhanced this already significant programme," Pierre added.
The debate competition did not follow the usual format of argument and rebuttal. Instead, it gave students the space to present their arguments utilising oral and technology-based mechanisms including online presentations.
This year the students argued the topic, “Be it resolved: There has been much talk about building a dam in the Ortoire River when dams are built on rivers, it changes the ecosystem in many ways. Dams may impact, both positively and negatively, the biodiversity of terrestrial plant communities, fish and other aquatic life, mammals and birds. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?”
The judges had a tough time separating the finalists on criteria including topic development, diction, oral and visual presentation and clarity of message. According to educator and debate judge, Theophilus Nedd, "I am proud to have been a judge since inception and the high standard of the finals is reflected in the narrow margin separating the schools. It's a privilege to see the nervousness and struggles at the start of the competition transform into confidence and skill in presentation. The students' eagerness and enthusiasm to absorb knowledge and improve is a tribute to this competition. Kudos to bpTT and The Black Deer Foundation for their continued support of this benchmark competition."
According to founder and president of The Black Deer Foundation, Arvolon Wilson Smith, “The format of this debating competition was crafted to give schools the confidence to present their thoughts and ideas without inhibition. The virtual environment is a revolutionary mechanism and the students responded well and really lifted the quality of their presentations. With this expanded capacity and reach, we look forward to even greater participation going forward.”
The competition currently engages students from the north and south eastern education districts, but with the advent of the new online technology platform, there are plans for a national reach in future. In addition to the debating component which is secondary school focused, students between the ages of seven and 18 participate in the essay writing as well as the art/cartoon categories of this environmental competition.
Nazia Rahim, captain of the Mayaro Secondary team, was elated with their victory.
"This debate competition is a transformative experience and it changes the way we look and think about the environment and our place in it. In addition, it really sharpens a lot of skills that benefit us academically from research to public speaking. It was a tough fight and the quality of the other schools really challenge us to be our best and it made winning even more rewarding. I appreciate this opportunity and heading into exams, I'm even more confident of success."