On June 28 I was privileged to be a judge in the Youth Speak Out, a public speaking contest held by the non-profit vocational educational institute Servol. The Central East Zonal finals, held at the Servol Chaguanas Hi-Tech Auditorium, pitted four speakers against each other. Each speaker chose a topic in advance and prepared an eight-minute speech on her or his topic.I have to congratulate the teachers of the Adolescent Development Programme (ADP), under whose guidance the students learned public speaking and developed their speeches.On Friday I heard four very good speeches delivered by four well-prepared speakers. They all did a marvellous job, and I'm not just saying that to be nice.Retired school principal Gregory Julien was head judge, veteran journalist Vernon Khelawan was the final judge, and we all agreed we were pleasantly surprised at the high quality of the presentations.
Our surprise was not an indictment of Servol or its students, but rather an acknowledgement that young people in our country today seem to be generally inarticulate and unable to confidently deliver a well-structured, thoroughly researched presentation. There is something missing in our education system on the whole, some gap between the teaching of English and public speaking, so that when one comes across a young person who can fearlessly stand in front of an audience and deliver a strong eight-minute speech, it is disproportionately impressive to the audience.I'm not sure what's causing the gap, but it exists in many schools, not only the former junior and senior secs and vocational schools such as Servol. I've met students who have graduated from grammar-type schools unable to do credible research on a topic, unable to write and structure a presentation, and unable to deliver said presentation. That is one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to listen to the four competitors on Friday, who all introduced their speeches with suitable quotations or pertinent statistics, and by and large confidently went through their presentations.
Certainly, they weren't perfect–for example, they read their speeches, while the best speeches are delivered from notes and not read word for word. (But in this I could hardly fault them, as I myself prefer to read my own speeches. I often say I'm a writer, not a talker.) The speakers, like many T&T people, had clear trouble with the "-ed" ending and the "th-" beginning of some words. This, while perfectly acceptable in Creole speech, is not acceptable in Standard English, in which these presentations were delivered.In one case, the sources of much of the researched information in the speech were not credited, causing a loss of points because of the ethical concerns such omissions raise. But, on the whole, these four young people from the Arouca, Chaguanas, Arima and St Andrew's Regional Life Centres acquitted themselves more than honourably.In fact, these students did so well that I would suggest to the Ministry of Education that it examine the Servol ADP curriculum with a view to adapting it to the general curriculum of secondary schools in T&T. The topics taught under ADP–self-awareness, parenting, spirituality, peer counseling, intellectual and physical development, and social and creative awareness–could well prove useful to all our students, not just the vocational students of Servol. That these four young adults delivered credible, thoughtful presentations on topics including child abuse, bullying, and teen violence made me feel hopeful that all is not lost for this X-Box generation.
I take this opportunity to laud the teachers and staff of Servol, particularly in the above-mentioned centres, who are doing such a good job in training young people for life as well as work. These four young people might never have to deliver presentations in their day-to-day lives, but the discipline and self-confidence afforded by the preparation to give their speeches in front of an audience of strangers could go far.There are many situations in which one needs to express one's thoughts and informed opinions. I'm not just thinking about job interviews, although those certainly come to mind. I'm talking about being able to consider, research and discuss any issue–like politics, consumer rights, crime and punishment, or religion.This is one skill that stands a person in good stead anywhere, be it in a rumshop, on the block or in Bible study class.And might I suggest that had some of our parliamentarians done the ADP we might have had a better level of discourse in the Lower House?