Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Fantastic Four (LAWASIA 2019)

Last month, Team University of Malaya (UM) retained the LAWASIA National championship. As the champion team marches on to Hong Kong, the others are left in despair of defeat...

LAWASIA is one of the few exceptional mooting competitions which admit multiple teams from the same university. Things get awkward when the teams go neck-to-neck vying for the top spot. Worst case scenario is two UM teams pitted against each other - whatever the outcome, Team UM loses...

If one team does win the championship, where does it leave the other teams? Sure, they will still cheer for their victorious comrades. After all, better a win for Team UM than any other university. But deep down, pangs of envy hit home. After all, it's inevitable that their peers back in campus will draw comparisons. Or worse, they will be overlooked and forgotten altogether...


All 4 teams, win or lose, deserve credit for their valiant efforts.

Champions of the past, present and future

* * *

A lot of thought was put in balancing the teams.

The 4 teams were formed out a pool of 12 mooters. Some were seniors, some novices. Some already have trophies under their belt, some have yet to taste glory.

Each team had their fair share of proven and untested mooters. Each team had a diverse array of quality. 

The idea was to leave no team behind. And to give all 4 teams a fair shot at winning.

Would it have been more prudent to pack all the best mooters into one team? Perhaps, in theory. But given that every mooter had their own strengths and weaknesses, ranking them from best to worst is easier said than done.

In any event, our philosophy is that everyone is capable of improving in leaps and bounds. Novices can learn a lot from their seniors. And seniors toughened up when shouldering responsibility.

After the Preliminary Rounds, 3 of our teams broke into the Top 12 - the highest representation of any university. Only 1 team missed out, just by a whisker (ranked 14th).

In the Oralist Rankings (based on average score), 4 mooters from Team UM made into the Top 10, 7 mooters in the Top 20. Again, no other university could match our high representation.

Our strategy worked. Everyone in all 4 teams put up a great fight. On any other day, any of them could have gone on to win, and change the course of history...

Team UM 1

* * *

Our training was grueling, but rewarding.

Some of the mooters had to juggle internship in the weeks leading up to the competition. This limited their LAWASIA training sessions to evenings or weekends.

Those from Sabah and Sarawak had to stay back straight after exams, and had to forsake going back home for most of their semester break.

Whilst most students were happily holidaying away, the LAWASIA mooters were busy researching, training and stressing away.

Quite a sacrifice, indeed.

All 4 teams trained as allies. Sharing their research discoveries, and interesting ideas. The teams sparred against themselves. Everyone learnt from each other.

Although only one team emerged as Champion, the victory was a collective effort. A win by one, is still a win by all.

UM is ONE!

Team UM 2

* * *

Last but not least, all teams exhibited tremendous tenacity.

During training, the teams suffered from lapses of confidence. Both sides, Claimant and Respondent, each had glaring chinks in their armour. Maneuvering through the tricky spots strained the mettle of even our most senior mooters.

We knew this year was going to be tougher than 2018. The other universities must be even more motivated to take us down, or at least prevent a repeat of our last's year dominating 1-2 finish. Their ranks were replete with seniors and LAWASIA repeaters.

And true enough, our teams struggled in the competition, suffering loses here and there. Two teams eked through the Preliminary Rounds unbeaten; the other two teams won 2 out of 4 matches. In the Advanced Rounds, our 3 teams had contrasting results (2-0, 1-1, 0-2). Sadly, two teams had the misfortune of facing each other - a team-kill was inevitable.

After every loss, our teams did not lose spirit. They got back to their feet, reflect on their mistakes. They kept on fighting, and fighting, till the very end.

As in all competitions, there can be only one winner. Ultimately, only one of Team UM emerged victorious.

Nevertheless, the sheer grit shown by the other 3 teams deserve just as much credit and congratulations.

Team UM 3

* * *

A shout-out to UM's Fantastic Four of LAWASIA 2019:

Team 1: Izni, Michelle & Sheng Wei

Team 2: Christina, Iqbal & Umyra

Team 3: Anson, Florence & Kenny

Team 4: Esther, Nevyn & Zafirah

Although victory may have escaped you this time, never give up, never surrender.

Keep fighting, stay fantastic!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

We Are The Champions Of Malaysia... Again (LAWASIA 2019)

Last year, Team University of Malaya (UM) achieved the unthinkable, if not impossible. After an absence of 13 years from the LAWASIA Moot, we stormed back with immediate impact.

At the National Rounds, our two teams swept all the prizes - Champion, Runners-Up and Best Mooter.

At the International Rounds, our champion team defeated National University of Singapore in the Final.

We didn't just ruffle a few feathers. Our Cinderella comeback felt more like an elephant gate-crashing a private party, leaving a mess of broken glass and hearts behind.

A sequel of last year's heroics was always going to be tough act to follow. Proving our victory wasn't a fluke weighed heavily on the shoulders of our new teams.

Nevertheless, after some intense dueling last weekend...

Team UM is the LAWASIA Champion of the Malaysian National Rounds once more!

Whoops, we did it again!

* * *

Still, we fell short of a flawless victory, this time around.

No 1-2 finish, no clean sweep, no perfect score (last year, our champion team won all 7 rounds and all the votes of 3 judges in every round!).

We sent 4 teams this year, 1 more than last year.

We knew the inside outs of the competition this year, whilst we were traversing through a dark forest with unseen undergrowth last year (not an easy feat for an elephant!)

We had more experienced hands on the deck this year, whilst we only had a handful of stalwarts last year.

In the end, we did not quite hit the dizzying peaks of 2018. Still, our overall performance still soared high above all our other rivals:
  • Our champion team went undefeated throughout the competition (winning all 7 matches in the Preliminary Rounds, Advanced Rounds and Final)
  • Our champion team scored the highest overall raw score for the Preliminary Rounds and Advanced Rounds combined (out of the Top 12 teams)
  • Our university had the most teams qualifying for the Advanced Rounds (3 teams - ranked 3rd, 5th and 8th after the Preliminary Rounds)
  • We won the Best Mooter Award (Miss Esther Hong)

All in all, still a comprehensive victory.

* * *

So why did we struggle in 2019?

Simply put, the level of difficulty had increased. A few factors made our trek to the top trickier.

First, the moot problem was a 53-page tome made out of fictional documents (Vis arbitration style) covering novel complex issues on substance (sale by auction) and jurisdiction (emergency arbitrator). Last year, mooters only had to contend with a standard fact-sheet-based moot problem of 13 pages.

The breadth and depth of research was more expansive. Mixing the right balance of facts into our submissions proved to be a real challenge, especially since different judges had different level of familiarity with the voluminous record.

Second, there was a more level playing field between teams. This year, the number of teams decreased from 30 to 24. But quantity isn't necessarily equivalent to quality. Paradoxically, the smaller field meant that the top teams faced each other more frequently. True enough, the 'bottleneck' effect was reflected by the results.

In the Advanced Rounds, only 2 out of 12 teams won all 2 matches (last year, the top 6 teams did so). Also, since LAWASIA adopts a league format instead of a knockout format for the Advanced Rounds, it's possible for teams to win all their matches but still not qualify to the Final - but this year, only our champion team sailed unscathed in all 6 matches of the Preliminary and Advanced Rounds (last year, 4 teams did so). And quite tragically this year, the top 2 teams of the Preliminary Rounds lost steam and failed to advance to the Final (last year, both our champion and runners-up team firmly clinched top 2 from start to finish).

Third, the mooting skills of our opponents were arguably more formidable. Many of the strong teams fielded seasoned mooters, including 'repeaters' from last year (fun fact: the 'Best Mooter' of the recent Jessup National Rounds even joined the fray). In contrast, there were a few first-time novice mooters in our ranks (including even our champion team), and no one from last year returned as a 'repeater'.

As a result, the top teams traded blows quite evenly. Our own teams suffered losses along the way. Although our champion team went on an unbeaten run, some of their victories were won by razor-thin margins (the Final was a 2-1 split decision). And given our dominance in 2018, it's no surprise if large target marks were painted all over our backs this year...

Team UM 2 Team ATC 1

* * *

From round to round, even till the very end, victory was not assured.

Every match, we had to dig deep, summon our reserves, and pray for Lady Luck's blessings.

There was never a moment in the competition where we were thinking "Oh yes, we got this!". We were constantly on the edge of our seats. Doubts assailed us at every corner.

And if we had lost this year, there would be no bitter feelings. There were many other formidable teams worthy of the crown. The Final was truly a nail-biting affair - after all, we were up against Advanced Tertiary College, former multiple National and International champion of LAWASIA.

Yes, Team UM had successfully defended the LAWASIA championship - but only just!

Next up is the International Rounds, Hong Kong - to defend our crown against the rest of Asia.

There's little time for rest and celebration.

The final chapter still awaits.

We're in the endgame now...

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Role Of Teachers - To Be Learnt, Not To Be Loved

It's easy to be loved as a teacher.

Shower your students with good grades like Christmas candies.

Provide them with ample of tips right before final exams.

Skip the tough topics.

Wave off their indiscretions with a friendly word of warning.

Reduce all your notes into Power Point slides and recite every word (nothing more, nothing less) during lecture, hence giving good reason for them to stay in bed instead of coming to class.

But doing all that serves to only impede their learning curve. Hence, the true measure of a teacher lies not in their popularity, but productivity.

"I wanted white roses for Teacher's Day, not red roses!"

* * *

That's not to say a good teacher should be a hate figure like Professor Snape, of course. Credibility comes with respect. A teacher has an easier job dispensing knowledge and wisdom to an attentive class. Students are more motivated to learn by the carrot, not the stick.

And so far, I've not been flooded with hate mails or death threats. By and large, the majority of my students have positive feelings about me - or so I'm told.

Still, my record is not unblemished. Some have voiced out of their displeasure of my methods. Some even doubt my morals.

How do I respond? Not much. I'm a man of action, not words. The need to even painstakingly explain to people to justify my actions already means I've done something wrong, somewhere. It's a job hazard. As teachers, we can't please everyone.

That said, I do wish students are able to see things from our perspective. To understand the hardships that we face on a daily basis. To forgive us for the mistakes we make, which we inevitably do, inasmuch as we strive to avoid.

* * *

#1 Teachers cannot help every student (in equal measure)

Let's say a class has 40 students. Some students are fast learners, some take longer to absorb the lessons, some don't even care.

Should every student be accorded equal amount of time and attention? Theoretically, yes. Practically, no.

For instance, a teacher should devote more time to struggling students. A smart student may even do well without any personal attention. And between two struggling students, it makes reasonable sense for the teacher to prioritise the more receptive one rather than the rebel who stubbornly refuses to listen.

Point is, there are many good reasons why a teacher may treat individual students differently. Students should not feel there's some kind of malicious discrimination or conspiracy going against them.

"No Hufflepuff losers allowed either"

* * *

#2 Teachers cannot be fully responsible for their students' results

Any student who does well is bound to attract the envy of their less successful peers. More so when the same student has seemingly gotten favourable attention from a teacher all year round.

The student gets constant praises during class, extra 1-on-1 sessions after school, and so on.

Teacher's pet! Bias! Report to the authorities!

True, the student may have benefited from the extra lessons.

But did the other students ever raise their hands to answer questions during class? Did they ever offer staying back for extra lessons instead of rushing back home?

Ultimately, each student is primarily responsible for their own success (or failure). A teacher is there only as a guide. If students lack the initiative to seek help, they have only themselves to blame.

* * *

#3 Teachers cannot take care of their students' feelings

What is the primary duty of a teacher? Simply put, to 'teach'. To dispense knowledge. To assist students in getting prepared and ahead in life.

It is not the duty of a teacher to make students feel loved and good about themselves. That's what family and friends are for.

Again, that's not to say that a teacher shouldn't try to be on friendly terms with students. But that's a nice-to-have bonus, not a need-to-have requirement.

The priority is clear. A teacher should focus on teaching, above everything else. A teacher should not refrain from giving constructive criticisms simply to avoid 'hurting the feelings' of students. Sugarcoating their flaws is but a temporary reprieve, and only harms them in the long run.

Ultimately, teachers should not compromise on the quality of their lessons for the sake of appeasing to the students' capricious emotions.

"Today, we will get to know each other better... nope, not doing this..."

* * *

Some teachers are loved, some teachers are hated.

Regardless, the best teachers don't give a damn what you feel about them.

They will get on with their job, helping as many students as they can, whether they are loved or hated.