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Nurturing debating skills and academic excellence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 5:17pm

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Capstone Prep Education Center has been quickly growing over the past three years - expanding to three offices in Causeway Bay, with satellites in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. This should come as no surprise to parents in Hong Kong, who associate Capstone with renown in debate. Indeed, over the past decade, the centre has produced many of the city’s world class debaters.


Last year, Capstone trained two of the top five debaters at the World Schools Debating Championship. Four Capstone students achieved top speaking honours in the Harvard World Schools Debating Invitational. Some students also were finalists in the Oxford and Cambridge School Debating competitions.

“We have had many successes in these competitions because we have such a dedicated programme,” says founder and managing director of Capstone, Ronald Po.

Over the years, Po has found that debating is correlated with students’ overall success in school and beyond. “Debate, of course, is not the end-all and be-all for every student. But what is good about debate is that it requires you to have not only the basics of effective leadership and very intelligent quick thinking, but also persuasion. If you are applying to a university or are running for some kind of an office, intelligence and presentation skills matter.”

One of the immediate benefits of being very good in debate is that it easily opens doors to universities. “Schools love strong debaters because they have proven themselves to be effective communicators both in and outside of the classroom.  The best debaters often end up going to Ivy League universities and Oxbridge,” Po says.

Capstone’s top debating students also receive assistance with their university applications, and in recent years, Capstone students have excelled in the admissions process. Last year, 80 per cent of the company’s consulting students who applied to top American universities received offers at highly selective colleges such as Stanford, Columbia, University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins, and all those who applied to British universities received offers from top-ranked institutions including Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Economics, and University College London.

When asked what sort of students would be perfect for debating courses, Po’s response is: “If you have ambition and you have foundational logic and critical thinking abilities, Capstone specialises in cultivating these qualities and makes you a stronger student.”

And Capstone isn’t just another education centre when it comes to debate - students of all levels come to Capstone to train with the best. Po says, “If students are serious about debate and want to do well, our centre will offer a few other things to position them for success. Firstly, there will be ample debate practice with excellent classmates. Secondly, stronger students will receive opportunities to fly around the world to compete in various competitions. Lastly, we have some of the best coaches in all of Asia.”

Since its inception in 2003, Capstone now has dedicated programmes in competitive debating from Grades 5 to 12. The curriculum is based on the British Parliamentary (BP) format - currently considered to be the world’s most prestigious debating style. Here, students will be taught how to adapt their speeches and deliveries according to BP guidelines on style, substance, and strategy.

Coaching focuses primarily on persuasive communication skills, the intellectual basis of ideas, and the organisation and delivery of an argument.

They will also be taught presentation skills. “Once students get over the discomfort and intimidation of public speaking, teachers will help them fine tune their style, which includes voice and the use of body language,” Po explains.

Po expects that by the time students complete the program, they will be able to articulate their ideas with confidence and poise, master the art of persuasion, and ultimately, be ready to compete in major debating competitions.

Having good debating skills can also increase a student’s employability. Many Capstone graduates have found jobs in management consulting, banking, private equity, finance and law, or according to Po: “basically in jobs where intelligence and presentation skills are in high demand.”

Po believes that Hong Kong’s youth is highly intelligent and full of great ideas, but many do not know how to express themselves well.

He recalls an experience with one of his students some years back: “He had lots of ideas but he was rather reserved and not always willing to share his thoughts. But eventually, we managed to coax him out of his shell.”

The coaching paid off as the student ultimately received an offer to study business at the prestigious University of Virginia in the US. He is now working in Dallas with a private equity firm - which is the student’s dream job.

Po also notes that some of Capstone’s students are now pursuing entrepreneurial ambitions, which, according to Po, is another good indicator of effective leadership and management.

“What makes us stand out from other education centres is that we focus more on long-term goals,” he says. “On top of that, we are always upgrading the curriculum, and we believe we have top-class coaching personnel, many of whom are experts recruited from overseas.

“The numbers speak for themselves. If you look at our results and track record of success, I am confident that we are undoubtedly one of the strongest companies in Asia when it comes to nurturing successful students,” he adds.

Capstone, together with its partner Cambridge Union, have created the Asian Schools British Parliamentary Championship - the qualifier debate rounds for the Cambridge Schools Debating Competition.

Qualifying rounds this year will be held in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. It will be one of the largest high school debate competitions in terms of the number of participating schools and countries. The finalists will represent Asia at the University of Cambridge.