Debaters from Diocesan Girls' School (DGS) and CCC Ming Kei College put judges in a tough spot on Tuesday.
The two Kowloon schools debated gallantly on the topic of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, but DGS won the first semi-final in Division One of the 12th Nesta-SCMP Debating Competition at the Mariners' Club in Tsim Sha Tsui.
DGS took the negative stance on the motion "Hong Kong cares for its ethnic minorities", while Ming Kei argued the affirmative side.
Ming Kei started by pointing out that Hong Kong has measures to protect minorities. The government offers them education and employment support, the team said.
DGS countered that those schemes fail to meet the needs of minorities, who regularly feel discriminated against.
"I was very impressed by how the debaters were able to debate at the macro level," said Greg Forse, an adjudicator and coach for the Hong Kong schools debating team. "The level of matter and knowledge was very high.
"Debaters compared different countries, and made use of reports from the United Nations and various statistics to support their arguments."
Both teams performed well, the adjudicators agreed.
David Walker, an English teacher at Hoi Ping Chamber of Commerce Secondary School, in Kowloon, said: "It was not an easy job to make a decision. All debaters had impressive presentations and delivered them very well under pressure. Their arguments had a strong basis and were supported by statistics."
Bruce Mackie, an English teacher at Ma On Shan Tsung Tsin Secondary School, was the third adjudicator.
They all felt DGS delivered more powerful and passionate speeches, and was able to break apart Ming Kei's arguments.
DGS' third speaker, Nicole Liu Hui-kay, a Form Three student, made a great impression on both the audience and judges during the debate. "Her passion, fluency, pronunciation, intonation - and she almost never looked at her note cards - made her the best speaker," Mackie said.
He also reminded debaters about the importance of using pauses during their speeches.
"The manner of a debater's presentation is very important to persuade the audience. Although there are time constraints in debates and your message has to be delivered quickly, pauses are effective to get the information across to the audience," he said.
"Debaters should also be aware of their gestures. Hand movements can be distracting."
Having earned a spot in the grand final, the DGS team will now wait to see which school they will be up against: TWGHs Kap Yan Directors' College, in Sheung Shui, or CCC Kei Yuen College in Yuen Long, which will face off in the other semi-final next Tuesday.
The grand final of the competition will be held on March 6.
The Nesta-SCMP Debating Competition is organised by the Native English Speaking Teachers' Association and the South China Morning Post.
For more information, go to www.nesta.hk/debating.php