About the Ethics Bowl

What is an Ethics Bowl?

An Ethics Bowl is both a collaborative and competitive event, where teams of students analyze and discuss ethical dilemmas. They imagine, criticize, and compare bold strategies, and may even amend their original positions when faced with convincing arguments. Students have opportunities to pose and respond to probing questions, which results in a deepening awareness of the stakes and principles that animate the discussion.wordcloud

Teams from all schools are eligible to participate, and each school team comprises five students from Grades 9 to 12. In advance of the Ethics Bowl, schools receive cases that focus on current ethical issues—social, political, economic, scientific, cultural, or beyond. Students research and develop the cases, and arrive at the Ethics Bowl prepared to present their ideas and to listen to other perspectives. All teams participate in a round-robin style competition. In each round, two teams discuss two cases, and winning teams proceed to the semi-final and final competitions.

Students are evaluated on the following skills:

  • communication
  • use of relevant information
  • critical thinking
  • original thinking
  • intellectual improvisation
  • collaboration

Mission & History

In 2014 Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties (MARL) secured an invitation to participate in the USA High School Ethics Bowl. For two consecutive years Manitoba sent teams to compete at the USA competition held at the University of North Carolina Parr Centre for Ethics. Although the students’ experience was very positive it was determined for the growth of the Ethics Bowl, MARL would concentrate their efforts of expanding through the public school system in Manitoba followed by Canada. The USA Ethics Bowl provided an endorsement which greatly supported the vision of a Canadian version.

Between 2016 to 2018, with the support of the University of Manitoba Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics and the Manitoba Department of Education, Manitoba High School Ethics increased participation from six to sixteen high school teams. In 2018 the first ‘Coupe éthique des écoles secondaires’ was held at the Université de Saint-Boniface with six teams making the Ethics Bowl a truly bilingual Canadian event.

On April 24 and 25, 2019 the first Canadian High School Ethics Bowl was held at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), an endorser since 2015. The inaugural event included a full day of ethical games and opportunities for students and supervisors to strengthen their critical thinking skills and collegial ties. The first schools to attend outside of Manitoba were Ideal Mini School and Sands Secondary School from British Columbia. The champions were École secondaire Kelvin High School with the finalist being Springfield Collegiate Insititute, both from Manitoba. Also in attendance was Leaf Rapids Community School from northern Manitoba, a priority of the Canadian High School Ethics Bowl (CHSEB) committee of engaging isolated communities in critical and collaborative discussions. By the end of March 2020 over 1000+ high school students participated in the high school ethics bowl. 

In the Fall and Winter of 2019 and 2020 the CHSEB successful expanded further into British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario with a strong commitment from Saskatchewan to host regionals for the 2nd CHSEB which was to be held on April 25 and 26 at the CMHR. Due to the covid 19 pandemic the 2nd CHSEB was postponed.

Not to be deterred, on May 4, 2020 CHSEB committee piloted a virtual high school ethics bowl between Sands Secondary School in British Columbia and École secondaire Kelvin High School in Winnipeg. It was a resounding success in spite of the fact there was no direct contact between teams.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, the CHSEB committee has conceptualized a consortium model to help galvanize and support the regional leaders, teacher coaches and students with resources. One of the resources is the CHSEB website which in great part received support from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. 

History is now being written as the expansion continues across Canada. 

Key Words to Describe an Ethics Bowl

An Ethics Bowl presents the opportunity for students to develop competencies in the following areas:

  • mutual respect
  • open-mindedness
  • meaningful dialogue
  • critical conversation
  • active listening
  • using evidence
  • challenging assumptions
  • thinking, rethinking
  • courage
  • flexibility, adaptability
  • risk assessment
  • synthesizing new information
  • intellectual improvisation
  • political, cultural awareness
  • original thinking


Student Feedback

The Ethics Bowl has had a great impact on participating students, and on their school communities:

“Discussing ethics is discussing the future of the world.” – H.

“It really makes you see things from a different perspective.” – K.

“The cure to ignorance is discussion.” – T.

“You will walk away a different person.” – N.

“I’ve learned how to approach social issues through education rather than anger.” – S.

“Now I’m going to look at all the different sides of a subject and what people it could affect.”
– B.

“I definitely want to share my lessons I’ve learned with people around the world.” – V.

“It helped me be more open-minded and a more well-rounded citizen.” – K.

Teacher Feedback

Participating teachers have observed that student discussions are deeper and more meaningful as a result of participation in an Ethics Bowl. Many report that other teachers in their schools have been inspired to integrate critical thinking and collaboration skills into their classes, creating a school-wide approach to discussing challenging ethical issues.

“The Ethics Bowl is an excellent opportunity for students to think critically about the issues facing society in a collaborative setting. It brings together so many different skills, such as teamwork, literacy, analysis, and communication, that are essential for success in the twenty-first century.”
– Kara

“The Ethics Bowl has become part of our school culture. . . . We have more and more students involved each year. . . . Other teachers in our school use ethics as a teaching tool in their classrooms now.”
– Caroline


Respectful, constructive and reciprocal dialogue is a pillar in any democracy. In Canada, democracy is informed by our constitutionally entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sets out the rights and responsibilities that shape our free and democratic society. Dialogue helps us collectively understand and give meaning to both our rights and our responsibilities. The Canadian High School Ethics Bowl is an excellent example of young people taking up the mantle to ensure that thoughtful and purposeful dialogue continues to inform our democracy, and is a testament to the importance of youth leadership across Canada.Senator Marilou McPhedran, March 2020
Through collaborative analysis, students participating in an Ethics Bowl gain a better understanding of ethical questions they encounter. The ethical cases they are asked to analyze are exemplars of issues relevant to their daily classroom experiences and mirror national and international ethical issues.
Manitoba supports the idea of a Canadian High School Ethics Bowl to take students beyond the polarization of issues to a deeper and broader understanding of the dimensions of current topics that make the headlines each day. It will build citizens who are knowledgeable and able to communicate a rich understanding of their role as citizens to maintain a democratic and socially just society.
Students in schools from across Canada can improve their global competencies of critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, and citizenship by participating in the Canadian High School Ethics Bowl.Darryl Gervais, Director, Instruction, Curriculum and Assessment Branch, Manitoba Education and Training, January 2018
The Collaborative is thrilled to endorse the Canadian High School Ethics Bowl. The Ethics Bowl‘s inclusive approach to fostering excellence in moral inquiry is precisely what is needed to help human beings flourish individually, as Canadian citizens, and as participants in a rapidly changing world. Sandra Lapointe, Project Lead, The Collaborative, McMaster University, 2018
The Canadian Philosophical Association (ACP-CPA) heartily endorses the creation of a National High School Ethics Bowl. As advocates for reasoned discourse and careful thinking, we see encouraging high school students to engage with questions of ethical significance in a collaborative, constructive manner as an important and beneficial part of creating a public attuned to the philosophical dimensions of life. In working to create such a public, we believe that the National High School Ethics Bowl will simultaneously promote many of the virtues central to democratic citizenship.Samantha Brennan, President, Canadian Philosophical Association, June 2017
While the same rigour of empirical inquiry and investigation is expected, as exists in traditional public debate, there is one important distinction to the overall strategy taken by students during the Ethics Bowl: through their collaborative inquiry, students are meaningfully engaged in an intrinsic and fundamentally important understanding of how both the individual and collective dimensions of situated context and lived experience do influence and shape public dialogue with their peers on the issues and challenges raised. This moves beyond mere ‘facts’ to a more critical appreciation and iteration of each dilemma.
From my vantage point, our students’ abilities to circumnavigate this valuable confluence of the many ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ realities that inform each ethical question provides them with a foundational basis for renewed and strengthened public dialogue. It is my firm belief that our students’ abilities to achieve mutual understanding of, and co-defined solutions or outcomes to, these important questions, is a valuable method for ensuring that the public school system’s twin objectives of preparing students to assume their rightful roles as citizens and as social contributors will be fully achieved by the time they graduate. Josh Watt, Executive Director, Manitoba School Boards Association, July 2017
On behalf of the more than 15 000 members of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, we are very pleased to lend our support to both the Manitoba High School Ethics Bowl and the creation of a National High School Ethics Bowl. We see these events as amazing opportunities to support the growth and development of our youth in areas of collaboration, critical thinking, and active listening.
It is as a result of opportunities like this that students develop the confidence and skills that ensure future leaders who are open minded, respectful, and receptive to new ideas. Norm Gould, President, Manitoba Teachers’ Society, April 2017
The Manitoba Provincial Health Ethics Network and its council are pleased to endorse the High School Ethics Bowl. The aims of collaborating, research, critical thinking, active listening, and public speaking are increasingly important and this type of event has the potential to support important educational objectives for schools at all levels. This type of approach to problem solving you describe will serve students well throughout their lives in whatever role or field they end up working. Jennifer Dunsford, RN, MN; Co-Chair, Manitoba Provincial Health Ethics Network, February 2017
By encouraging dialogue among high school students, we believe the Canadian High School Ethics Bowl will enable them to develop an open-minded spirit to build on what they have in common and transform their differences into a source of value.
/The Bowl constitutes education for global citizenship and promotes understanding of the challenges facing humankind. It fosters a spirit of coexistence, informed by an awareness that actions that profit one group of people might have a negative impact or be perceived as a threat by others.
Gaining confidence in their capabilities through participation in the Bowl the students will develop the skills to actively participate, as engaged citizens, in solving the problems facing society and the world. Tony Meers, General Director, Soka Gakkai International Association of Canada
The Ethics Bowl is unique in its commitment to promoting free and open debate on topics of vital importance. MARL does not promote any particular point of view, but rather encourages students to reflect on their own views, and to learn how to discuss those views with others. Students are exposed to a method of public discussion that breaks free from the rancor and partisanship that characterizes much of our current political discourse, and in doing so they are given an alternative model of engaged citizenship. I fully anticipate that many of them will carry those schools forward into their lives and careers. Neil McArthur, Director, Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, University of Manitoba, April 2018
The Manitoba High School Ethics Bowl teaches and embodies qualities essential to business, government, and community success. Respectful, evidence-driven collaboration isn’t just the best path for advancing shared prosperity in our communities, it’s the only path.
The skills the Ethics Bowl invites attendees to develop are what turn young people into catalytic leaders. The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this initiative and its potential to drive transformation in our city. Loren Remillard, President CEO, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, April 2017

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