The craze of Model United Nations conferences, or MUNs, in school, gives way to Parliamentary Debates in college. While the two have merits, both miss out on a lot. 



Recently, I was invited by my school to judge one of the committees for our intra-school Model UN conference. Going back into that simulation mode and seeing students as young as seventh-graders try to grapple with pressing questions of our times made me think. Will this activity give these students what it promises?


If my experience is any indication, the answer is yes and no. True, MUNs did play a vital role in shaping my interests – so much so that I still credit them for nudging me to venture more into the field of politics and social sciences. They refined my debating skills, exposed me to a bunch of new information, and somewhere – though this seems contrary to how MUNs actually play out – taught me that there is more to activities and challenges than awards.


But there are some glaring shortcomings to what MUNs can achieve. It is a little absurd to think that school students can familiarise themselves with hundreds of treaties and charters of international and domestic laws. It is true that not all such laws ever come into play at any one specific conference and one can get by those two-three days if they just read up the relevant pieces of legislation. But there remains a big risk of people misrepresenting and arguing with the wrong facts, for which they cannot be fully blamed either, because it is quite impossible to know everything at this age.


Of course, there are many people who still excel at the activity. A few get by in some or the other way; some actually make the effort to understand these nuances of international affairs and outperform others with their skills. Yet, even they face certain other shortcomings, which are basically built into how we do MUNs. Speeches of one or two minutes barely allow anyone to get into the depth of things and argue effectively. Because of the format, there isn’t a lot of scope for back-and-forth engagement between opposing sides. Beyond this, MUN procedures do not give enough time for the participants to lobby with each other and negotiate – something that should be the core focus of the activity. Some of the more dominant delegates are usually able to manipulate whatever little informal lobbying time the committee actually gets. However, some formats actually – and rightfully – deviate from this norm. My first MUN was heavily focussed on lobbying and negotiating, where even our moderators helped us in making sound documents. That went on to become of the best MUNs I ever did.


College brought me to this phenomenon of Parliamentary Debates. There is no comparison between the level of debating that PDs and MUNs offer; the former is leagues ahead. PDs do not require people to read hundreds of pages of international law. They rely a lot more on the debating skills of the participants and, of course, people who keep reading and acquiring more and more knowledge stand to do better.


But where MUNs score a point over PDs is in their overall discipline and decorum. College debates are infamously unpunctual. While sometimes genuine unavoidable reasons account for the delays, often it’s simply because people don’t show up on time. It is not rare for tournaments to run till very late in the night. Even in debate rooms, things sometimes get hostile, unhealthily aggressive and toxic. MUNs at least largely stick to a schedule and maintain a level of decorum.


A personal quibble that I also have with PDs is how they at times seem to be distant from the reality. Some motions might make one wonder if there even is a point in discussing them. Others see people using all kinds of buzzwords about oppression, all in the comfort of an air-conditioned room. It’s not their fault that they are privileged, nor does it take away their right to speak about oppression, but it makes me wonder what credibility we have to talk about it without probably having experienced it. The elitism of the circuit – perhaps the activity itself – coupled with what debaters actually talk about presents a contrasting irony.


Above everything else, both MUNs and PDs bear one inexcusable failure. Countless people in both these circuits, often some of the more accomplished ones, have been named in various cases of sexual harassment and worse. For all their talk of gender equality and oppression, the circuits have not been able to create a space safe enough for everyone. Even though voices are raised against such offences and offenders, the fact remains that many such incidents have already happened and have not stopped by any measure either. The circuits will have to confront these ugly realities.


Image credits – ED Times


Prateek Pankaj
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There was a time when MUNs used to happen once a month, but now we have MUNs popping around almost every weekend. The MUN culture has seen an obvious shift from being debate-centered to a 100 other things.

MUNs (Model United Nations) were from the start a fun place to be, and being a simulation of the United Nations, they centred around tackling the big issues of the world,  teaching young changemakers the importance of research, and transforming them into better leaders of tomorrow. But somehow, all of this drifted to being dressed incredibly well, finding yourself a date, or enjoying the really expensive food.

There is, fortunately, more to it than meets the eye.

From finding yourself a good agenda and dates that suit your schedules on the many Facebook groups to getting yourself ready for the same, you learn a lot. Going for an MUN  builds you up as a person; it helps you shape your personality and helps you gain clarity on various issues. It boosts your confidence to an extent where you can make your stand clear and make your presence felt in any sphere of life.

On top of that, if debating isn’t right up your alley, you have plenty of other areas to explore, say you can go as a photographer, a cartoonist, or even a reporter.

From doodling on papers to capturing a delegate’s raw emotion, and eventually reaching a conclusion to the various crisis situations that are presented before you, an MUN offers you a plethora of opportunities. On top of that, MUNs teach you how to deal with people, which is what you’ll require to do a lot for the rest of your lives. An as an icing on the cake, it even helps you build a lot of contacts, and you may never know that you’d just find lifelong friends along the way.

An argument which I have heard a lot against the emergence of unconventional committees is that they don’t belong here or that they are just a marketing strategy to attract people. This may be true up to some extent, but these unconventional committees can be interpreted in a way that they give the fanboys, of the various movies and books, a pedestal to come together and have a healthy debate. From arguing on topics like “What Jon should do to protect everyone from the White Walkers” to “How can Thanos be stopped before everyone bites the dust” (literally), you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to rant about why your favourite character is better than the others.

The argument about cash prizes – how delegates enquire about how much money they’d be getting instead of talking about the agenda – can be substantiated using the phrase “Time is money”. The world today is as fast-paced as ever and if students are taking out time to research, I think they deserve to be awarded for their dedication and commitment to the topic.

All said and done, I think MUNs are a great place to socialise and help you build your personality.. On the plus side, it might just make your day when you get the “you are too cute” anonymous chit.


Feature Image Credits: Consillium Education

Dev Chopra
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The art of debate involves mastering skills of obvious intrinsic value: the confidence to speak in public, the construction of a logical argument; and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness to hear others’ arguments and to respond to them. Model United Nations (MUNs) started off as a simulation of the workings and functioning of the United Nations, which gave young students from school and college the opportunity to discuss complex world issues, understand political conflicts and think of proactive solutions. In status quo, however, it has been reduced to a commercial competition, where students are solely motivated by the big cash prize, rather than looking forward to participate in a constructive debate and increase their knowledge.
When the MUN culture started, students would show up to the committee rooms dressed in loose formal clothes carrying big research binders that contained several printouts or handwritten articles from various charters and reports relevant to the agenda. The debate was constructive and followed a precise pattern, it was more about solving the problem rather than spending most of your speaking time alleging other delegates and creating unnecessary conflict. The awards were decided on the basis of how well a delegate understood the agenda and contributed substantially to the debate rather than a number of times they spoke in a committee. Lobbying in an unmoderated caucus actually meant displaying diplomatic behaviour rather than trying to assert your dominance by shouting. ‘Fake CV’s’ was a concept unknown to the world of MUNs and the participants did not actively look forward to getting a new profile picture after the conference.
The purpose of a MUN conference, ideally, is to research and arrive at a solution through negotiations, deliberations and cohesive decisions. In many cases, it has unfortunately been dumbed down to belittling the ‘opponent’ to bag the cash prize. With an overabundance of MUNs being organised in the circuit, many of bizarre committees and staggeringly high delegate fees in many, it’s a certainty that the culture has seen a significant shift over the past years.

Regardless of anyone’s motive for attending a MUN conference- be it to improve on spoken skills, an upgrade for the C.V, to attend the social events, or to simply get a new Display Picture clicked for Facebook; MUNs have left an indelible first mark on many young debaters. Those who have kept a traditional MUN’s sanctity intact should be lauded, and the ones who strive to indulge in meaningful learning experiences through a dialogue of relevant facts are praiseworthy examples. These conferences have been a stepping stone for a career in diplomacy and International Relations for many young speakers and enthusiastic research-oriented students. It hones speaking skills, encourages political awareness and develops leadership skills, and teaches the art of negotiation to students. Reducing it to just another competition undermines the value of this unique concept, and ensures the money-making part overshadows the learning experience gained. The question of its improvement begs to be a rhetoric, but there are plausible solutions nevertheless. Restricting on ‘socials’ and inviting only the serious candidates can easily be achieved by any organiser. The rest entirely depends on the delegates; their willingness to learn through constructive debating and greater emphasis on research can define newer, better paths for this concept.

Feature Image Credits: United Nations

Bhavya Banerjee

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Vijeata Balani

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