College – Issue 41

ACADEMIC Callum zooms onto the world debating stage

They couldn’t go to Macau to compete, so in August, Year 13 student Callum Hackston and the rest of the New Zealand secondary schools’ debating team holed up in an Airbnb in Auckland and took on the world’s best via Zoom.

The only South Islander selected in the national team for the world debating championships, Callum soon bonded with the other four members, forming a tightly knit team. “Even though we couldn’t go overseas to compete – because of the Covid-19 situation – it was an incredible experience anyway,” he says. “We’re already planning a reunion.” Callum started debating in Year 9, gave it a rest in Years 10 and 11, but got back into it in Year 12 – because of an injured shoulder, which prevented him playing cricket. Debating quickly became his forte. He was a member of the Canterbury side at the national competitions in June, and although Canterbury just missed taking a semi-final spot, Callum impressed the selectors, securing his place for the World Schools’ Debating Championships. That was in May and then followed several weekends in Wellington and Auckland with his team, attending training seminars, absorbing the expertise of experienced coaches. “We did some debating, had lots of feedback, listened to podcasts, and had some great meals, which they cooked for us,” he says. When it came time for the competition, the team was well- honed, and felt its knowledge base had broadened significantly.

heartened by reaching the last 16 places, losing to Taiwan. When the championship itself began, the New Zealand team would often finish its debate at 2am or 3am (because of international time zone changes), before sleeping until noon. Callum says his debating style changed over the week of the global contest. “For a start, when you’re debating in a New Zealand accent to an overseas panel of judges, they’re all trying to work out what you’re saying, so I learnt to slow things down and to articulate really clearly. And, also, to avoid ‘Kiwiisms’, expressions known only to New Zealanders.” On several occasions he was selected to do the opening speech – setting up the debate – a role he hadn’t previously attempted. And sometimes he would do the reply. “You’ve got to be very precise with your choice of words and your process of argument, which needs to be coherent. I was a bit nervous before the first debate but that quickly went, once we got started. “There were eight rounds and we won five, including beating Oman, Latvia, Nepal, Macau and Indonesia. We lost to South Africa. Canada ended up as champions.” The international experience of competing against the sharpest minds of his peers has made Callum keen for more. Not surprisingly, he will embark on law studies next year.

“When you’re debating in a NewZealand accent to an overseas panel of judges, they’re all trying to work out what you’re saying, so I learnt to slow things down and to articulate really clearly.”


“When you go to the nationals, the information required is quite narrow, but at something like worlds, you need to broaden your thinking markedly.” The world competition – involving 74 countries and conducted in English via Zoom – was preceded by a practice tournament involving 100 teams, including development teams. The New Zealanders were

College Issue 41 2021


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