Island School Debate History

Island School are historically known to have been quite good at debating, to put it lightly. Lead by the legendary Mr. Chris Forse who was also a driving force behind the current Hong Kong Model United Nations. Island School are the first team to win a “trio of victories” in 5 years with exactly one year between each win. (the other school is South Island School) Island School won the Sing Tao Debating Competition in the academic years 85-86, 87-88 and 89-90. Although the school’s debating victories have dwindled in the past few years, its powerful legacy still remains in the record books.
Recently, while researching, I stumbled across the following excerpts written for the Island School Alumni Yearbook by the man himself, Mr. Chris Forse, detailing Island School’s debating success in the 1980s and the 1990s.

1985 Joint Schools' Debating Contest Team

Island School's first win in the Joint Schools' Debating Contest on May 4th 1985

At a recent assembly at the German-Swiss school, the captain of their debating team commenting on a recent victory over Island School said that it was a victory over the school that has set the standards by which other schools would have to measure themselves. It was a flattering, magnanimous comment but has some truth in it. Since 1985 the school has won the Joint Schools competition on four, and the Hong Kong Standard contest on 5 occasions (with almost as many runners-ups) and won plaudits around the world for its contribution to international Model UNs and Congresses. And yet it was not until the late 1970s that we even had a debating society, founded by Paul Gillingham, and a junior house debating competition was begun. Until then we made do with a ‘declamation’ competition. And what talent was unearthed – a few will remember ‘Cockney Kid’ David Askew who with Anand Tucker, Keith Hughes and Stephen Garlick would have graced any school team. It was not until 1983-4 that we entered an inter-school competition (then under Chris Stubbs and Vivienne Basckin) winning it in 1985, 1990, 1996 and 1997. The late ’80s saw a trio of victories in the Standard Debate (then run for Form Five students and younger), culminating in the ‘double’ in 1990.

1990 HK Standard Debating Champions

Zoë Ridgeway, Nick Campsie, Amy Hunter: HK Standard Debating Champions 1990

In 1998 after four successive years of inter-school championship wins, the school was given the ultimate accolade of representing Hong Kong in the World Debating Championships in London which included debates in the House of Commons, the Guildhall, the Inns of Court, Eton College and the Cambridge Union, and the honour of meeting the patron, the Princess Royal. Our successes over the years were due to some quite remarkable talent, and the efforts of some dedicated teachers: Vivienne, Monique Pirie, Heather Wilson and Sally Milnes. The captain’s role is always critical, requiring intellectual agility and coolness. We have been blessed with some very talented captains: Dvaipayan Ghose, Gwilym Roberts, Torquil Macleod, Stephen Lewls, Nick Campsie, Nicola Holmes, Lorna Forse, Ying Tin Li and (briefly but brilliantly) Murray Bunton.

1988 Standard Champions

Winners of the 1988 Standard (Yes, that's Mr. Forse in the background

The Model United Nations is a concept that allows students to role play as UN delegates under UN rules of debate. Island School has through its contribution in Hong Kong and around the world won a prestigious reputation. An eleven strong delegation (including two HKIS guests) attended the Harvard’s Model Congress Europe held in the European Union buildings in Luxembourg in 1994 and so dominated the occasion that they took seven best speaker awards. Small wonder then that in Amsterdam in 1996, at a Harvard Model UN, Island School was the only ‘school’ invited to participate, among university under and post-graduates. Finally I should mention the Mock Elections : US and UK.
Visit to House of Commons, London

Visit to the House of Commons in London

This is when the debaters have a chance to show their skills to the whole school. The US Presidential elections culminate in a Convention held on the playground at which candidates present their platforms amidst an array of bunting, balloons, bands, bodyguards … we even have the incumbent arriving in Mercedes Benz. The victor tends not to be the one elected by the US people though Prakash Bharwani in 1988 managed to carry that off as George Bush. Other victors were Anand Tucker (Jimmy Carter 1980), Edward Li (Walter Mondale 1984), Alex Stock (George Bush 1992) and Vishal Mahtani (as a latter day hippy in 1996). The UK elections are slightly lower key with victories for Labour candidate K.C. Tan in 1992 and a kilted Scottish Nationalist Gareth (Mc)Harfoot in 1997. Like our sportsboys and girls, our actors and actresses, and musicians, the debaters have in the last dozen years given the school some glories that will be savoured for years to come.