The Intellectual Kings and Queens’ Annual Olympiad

Simon Green

Recently I was approached by one of the schools I do lessons for, Native Speakers Club, and coerced into being a judge at the prestigious Final Round of the “Intellectual Kings” annual Olympiad. This was the culmination of 819 participants from 61 different schools, who had already done two gruelling rounds, including an in depth essay, so now we were down to the final 27 students. They had to choose between Humanities or Science, and then select one of 7 topics to discuss in the former, and one of 9 topics in the latter category. They then had to produce a 5 minute presentation, demonstrating not only a seriously high level of English, but also presentation skills, broad thinking, research and debating skills- bad enough in one’s own native tongue, but in a foreign language, the degree of difficulty gets cranked up several levels!

The Science group were 16 strong and equally split between boys and girls, and included such topics as: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” Only one brave soul attempted this and was an eventual prize winner as his English level, coupled with a coolness and panache seldom seen in someone his age (I’m guessing most were 16 or 17), was exemplary. Other topics selected by more than one participant were: “Organ donation after death should be compulsory”—discuss; or: “Euthanasia is a fundamental human right, and should therefore be made legal;” and “The increasing pace of automation means the death of the labour market and wider economy.” The aforementioned subjects were attempted by more than one person, and other topics were chosen by just one competitor. There were 4 judges, including your scribe, and we had to score them in several categories: Language range and accuracy; Content and organisation; Body language and handling of Powerpoint; Knowledge of topic and finally: Effort and research – so we had our work cut out. After 5 minutes was up, a bell rang to announce they had one more minute to wrap up proceedings, but very few people actually got to that stage so they had obviously timed their presentations to perfection.

By now you’re probably wondering why these students would want to put themselves through such a process, as well as being given a Spanish Inquisition by us judges after their talk had finished, in a bid to take them out of their comfort zone and think on their feet as well as outside the square? The main prize up for grabs was a two-year scholarship to one of central London’s top colleges, as well as a couple of weeks’ summer course for the runner up. Native Speakers Club offered 10 free lessons as well as a free lesson for every contestant, and Pearson Education offered various educational books. After 16 students were put through their paces, we were sequestered away in a private room to sort out our winners, hoping the other judges agreed with our respective choices. Fortunately in my case they pretty much did, but that didn’t stop the whole process becoming at times a tad discombobulated! We were effectively judge, jury and executioner, which wasn’t particularly pleasant.

After half an hour of debate we selected a winner and had hopes for some sort of snack – none was forthcoming as we were sent back to the “boiler room” to hear the next 10 students specialising in the humanities, with such topics as: “Is justice more important than mercy;” “Hard work is more important than talent” or “What does Britain’s exit from the EU mean for Russia?” The winner in this round was a lady who spoke with clarity and emotion, expressed in very superior English, and we discovered her sister had just graduated from university in the UK with distinction – what a talented and hard-working family!

All in all it was an exhausting but satisfying day, and we finally got rewarded with some sustenance at around 5.30 after a 10.00a.m start. Looking at these people perform on stage and listening to their very high standard of English, suggest that Russia has no need to worry about the upcoming generation of these young men and ladies- the world will be their oyster.