Thorough debate education improves academic performance, critical thinking and public speaking skills. When training young people long enough, debate education contributes to confidence building and participation in society too. Debate education is an invaluable tool for learning invaluable 21st century skills, and should be implemented and consolidated more broadly in high school curricula. This is one of the conclusions of IDEA NL’s impact evaluation “From Measuring to Learning: Evaluating the Impact of Debate on Critical Thinking and Democratic Values”. “From Measuring to Learning” is an impact study that focused on the impact of debate education in secondary schools in 8 European countries. The impact evaluation was carried out in the Netherlands (IDEA NL), Czech Republic (ADK), Romania (ARDOR), Slovakia (SDA), Estonia (EDS), Lithuania (EDC), Latvia (DC), and in Macedonia YEF). The evaluation was supported by Erasmus Plus Youth, Dutch agent. The evaluation focused on the level that critical thinking and democratic values improved due to series of debate education lessons either via clubs or classes to a similar group of young people at secondary school level.
Main measured effects of debate education
The study shows that well taught debate education during a number of months to the same group of young people organised in clubs or classes has a an impact on the development of those young people. It provides tangible and measurable, as well as perceived and confidence-building benefits for young people in respectively the area of opinion formation, public speaking and in critical thinking and academic performance. All skills are highly valued by the European Commission for Education Youth and Sport, in the Paris Declaration and the 21st Century Skills Agenda, as important competences for young people in the 21st century.
In the end the evaluation says: “Learning about the theory of argumentation and practicing it in different settings, learning from role models and interactions with diverse opinions, have made debaters more aware of their own opinions, more comfortable to express them, and more open to other people’s opinions. They feel their own critical thinking skills have improved, and so did their academic performance, their understanding of politics and the news.”
Becoming a vital network while working together on an impact evaluation
The process of the impact evaluation in eight countries gave a strong and positive impulse to the cooperation between the members of this consortium. In the duration of the project the consortium increased their efficiency in co-operation and teamwork. Participating organisations and the engaged staff and volunteers gained a deeper understanding of each other’s debate activities. The process allowed for a fresh exchange of ideas and best practices and enhanced capacities for future co-operation.
At the same time all organisations gained a deeper understanding of their own activities and debate programs through the use of evaluations. The conducted evaluations made the organisations smarter and better capable to discern what activities contribute to the important effects that debate has on the development of our youth.
If you are interested in learning more about this program, the report or how to use the toolkit, you can reach out to Anne Valkering, Yvonne Heselmans or Daan Welling via firstname.lastname@example.org, under the subject ‘evaluation’. We have a network of experienced evaluators and we can link you to them.