Reflecting on the First Ethics Bowl in Ireland – building skills in deliberative dialogue 

Sandra Irwin-Gowran 

Being very honest, no matter how many beginners guides on YouTube I watched, I couldn’t quite get my head around what an Ethics Bowl was until I played a very minor role in moderating the first Ethics Bowl final held in Ireland (online of course), but I was left in no doubt that this initiative has a great future in Educate Together schools.  

So, here’s what I learned. 

In the weeks leading up to an Ethics Bowl students in their respective schools spend time in class exploring ‘ethical cases’ written by external people on some of the major issues of our time, such as ‘who should get the Covid vaccine first?’ and ‘can Ireland afford to provide for refugees?’. Students explore the cases from all angles, from those that support the issue, to those that oppose it, to those that are somewhere in between. On the day itself, following the toss of a coin, like in a football match, teams decide on who goes first to present their case, the other team responds and the proposing team has an opportunity to reply and then it all reverses. So, what’s different about this kind of debate I hear you say? 

Firstly, each team has to prepare to persuade the judges that they have considered all angles to the topic, they impress by being able to demonstrate a deep understanding of the ethical considerations around the topic and being able to apply it to their own lives. Secondly, what’s really interesting to see in action is that they can score points by listening to what the other teams have to say and taking on board their points, even agreeing with them and changing their minds – so an Ethics Bowl is really about deliberation, dialogue and consideration for each other’s point of view. I was so impressed by the confidence with which each student presented their opinions.  

Pamela O’Leary from Cork ETSS had put together a stellar judging panel which included Marelle Rice, Shane Bergin, Daniel McCrea, Mags Steele and Nicholas Tanchuk (tuning in from Canada where the Ethics Bowl originated).   

As it turned out the final was between two teams from Cork ETSS which added to the tension, both teams were so respectful of each other and while one team had to be chosen as the winning team by the judges all teams were winners in getting to take part in this great initiative. In the end Cara, Luke and Brian claimed the accolade of the team to win the first Ethics Bowl final in Ireland following a topical discussion on whether all types of misogynistic abuse online should be made illegal or subject to a fine?  

Hat’s off to Pam O’Leary and Mike O’Keefe from Cork ETSS for their great work in making this happen. We in the national office were delighted to be involved in a small way in this event and were grateful for the support of WWGS in this regard.   

Really looking forward to seeing this in real life next year.   

Well done everyone!