Pupils Stir Up Poltical Debate at the HABSMUN Conference

Last week, a group of ten Fifth and Sixth Form pupils from Oundle’s ever-growing Model United Nations team headed to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School for the HABSMUN conference. For most of the group this was their first time participating in a Model UN debate, and with little time spent in preparation for the event, the delegates had to quickly learn on the job.

Oundle represented the small Central American nations of Guatemala and Jamaica. The small size and limited political presence of these countries presented unique challenges to making known their policies. To add to the challenge, this event was one of the largest MUN conferences in the country, so with more voices in the room, debaters had to consider how to be heard and how to make their limited time speaking as effective as possible.

A delegate from each country represented their nation in one of six committees, each discussing distinct but equally interesting topics. In the political committees, debate ranged from the ongoing geopolitical crises of the moment, such as stability in Turkey and conflict in the Middle East, to more modern threats such as fake news and cyber security. In the health committee, Giorgio Meanti (Ldr) passed legislation on mental health and embryo research, while Tati North (Sn) and Declan Boyle (L) tackled water scarcity and the ivory trade on the Environmental committee.

Meanwhile, in the human rights and disarmament committees, three delegates from Oundle discussed the war in Yemen, the sovereignty of the South China Sea, and religious freedom. Towards the end of the conference, each committee was tasked with coming together to resolve an imagined conflict in which China had invaded the Assam region of India. This proved a great opportunity for debaters to improve their cooperation and quick-thinking skills, and proposals made by Oundle students ranged from carefully planned peace talks and ceasefires, to more fanciful ideas of using armoured crocodiles or auctioning off of China.

Not only did the content of the debate provoke controversy, which made debate interesting and enjoyable, but the MUN style of debate was completely different to what Oundle pupils had done before. In Model United Nations, the aim is not necessarily to “win” and ensure that your country’s side of the argument is respected at all costs. Instead, delegates are encouraged to make the law as feasible as possible, and to amend it until they can vote in favour of it. The process is more constructive than the typical one-on-one, yes-or-no debate, and pupils therefore had to develop new skills in diplomacy and compromise. This meant refining typical debating skills of public speaking and persuasion, not only orally, but via written messages sent on notes between delegates.

Ed Hodgson (Sc)