A game closer to an art form than a sport and beloved by everyone from Leonardo di Caprio to Bill Gates via Benjamin Franklin and Marlin Monroe, chess has provided the medium for epic battles of wits over the entire course of its 800-year history. While the link between skill at the game and general intelligence remains unproven, it continues to be a test of focus, concentration and creative thinking. In the UK, chess is enjoying a renaissance in many primary schools, particularly as a means to lure youngsters away from their digital devices. Over the last two years, the number of schools adding chess to their curriculums has tripled. The game is now part of the school week at over 800 primary schools. Around twenty schools a month sign up to Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC, www.chessinschools.co.uk/), a charity that aims to improve the education outcomes and social development through chess. CSC also organise the London Chess Classic (www.londonchessclassic.com/) tournament and Yes2Chess (yes2chess.org/), an international tournament. “Children are born into a world of touchscreens and instant response. Playing chess encourages them to sit down, concentrate and think hard, instead of tapping away,” says CSC founder Malcolm Pein.
Implemented as a way of fostering math and problem solving skills, regular chess lessons are also combatting screen addiction and short attention spans among children who’ve grown up glued to their phones. This “digital detox” has even been helping children who struggle with more traditional approaches to math. The transformation has been so significant that more staff members at participating schools are being trained on how to teach the game.
Pein, a former chess professional, says one of the goals of CSC is to encourage young people to spend time “unplugged”, particularly in the company of their parents during school holidays. He also argues that the game builds “skills, resilience and grit”. His inspiration for setting up the charity came out of teaching chess to immigrant children in Tower Hamlets, London, in the 1980s. “I saw the transformational effect on these children. They were living in tiny council flats, above chip shops, and we turned them into national champions. It was fantastic.” Breaking down the perceived elitism of chess is still a big part of the drive. “It’s about giving children in state schools the same opportunities children have in private schools,” Pein says.
Debate surrounding the pragmatic impact of chess, particularly on young minds, continues. Websites run by chess enthusiasts claim that the game improves everything from memory to academic performance. Some evidence from the John Hopkins School of Education does appear to support some of these assertions, but it is far from conclusive (education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/thinking-skills/chess/index.html). While you may not discover the next Gary Kasparov, at the very least, it’s an opportunity for family fun as the school holidays approach.
© 晉博教育中心 Brighten Youth Education Centre