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Outwit, outplay, outlast – Chess in the classroom at Umhlanga College

| November 17, 2010

From the beginning of 2010, Umhlanga College included chess in its academic curriculum.

There’s ample proof that chess can provide pupils with farreaching benefits. Not only does it stimulate the analytical side of the brain, but it also develops memory and even creativity, all within the context of a game. The tactics used in chess contribute towards sharpened logical thinking, and memory improves as players memorise variations of openings and end-game strategies.

Concentration develops as pupils focus on a given position to win.

Chess played in many schools around the world

The value of chess has been recognised in many other parts of the world. In America, for example, the New York City Council, in conjunction with an organisation called Chess-in-Schools, has provided funding for teacher training. The Teacher Training Institute (TTI) teaches educators in New York City how to implement a chess programme at their school.

This programme is offered free of charge to any teacher at any level of schooling. Other countries that have included chess as part of their school programme are Venezuela, Spain, Canada, Sweden, China, Slovenia and India. At the International Research Conference on Chess, held in Moscow in 2009 and titled ‘Chess in the Russian and world educational system’, it was motivated that Russian schools include chess in their curriculum as “[it] allows the level of children’s logical reasoning to skyrocket, forces children make decisions by themselves, and develops the ability to study and to make actions ‘in mind’ (sic). These upsides increase children’s educational progress.”

Chess played in the Intermediate Phase of learning

The programme that we follow at Umhlanga College introduces the game and its rules to pupils in the Intermediate Phase – namely grades 4 to 7. The benefit
of chess is that pupils are able to compete against each other with only a rudimentary knowledge of the game. Thereafter, students are divided into ability
groups and a deeper understanding of the game is developed. As they become more competent in their play, the pupils develop strategies that extend their ability
to reason and analyse. Their innately competitive natures drive them to extend themselves without making a conscious effort to study.

A full range of instructional tools used, and opportunities available

Instruction methods used at our school include the use of computer chess, demonstration boards, a full-size outdoor chess set, chess puzzles and a ladder system,
where pupils compete to be placed at the top of their respective group. The parents’ response to the inclusion of chess in the curriculum has been overwhelmingly favourable. Even those with a limited knowledge of chess could envisage the benefits of the chess programme to their children.

Before we introduced chess into our curriculum, we gave the pupils an opportunity to play and learn about the game as part of our ‘Clubs programme’. Our management team has also decided to offer chess as an extramural activity from 2011. This will afford the pupils who wish to learn the game at a more advanced level the opportunity to do so, enabling them to compete against other top achievers from local schools. We will continue to register Umhlanga College in the provincial leagues and hope to see past pupils included in international teams.

Chess is a sport as well as a game

While chess examinations are available and can be used as a means of assessment, the competitive nature of the game ensures that pupils naturally strive to learn more as they seek to outwit classmates. Although a structured assessment programme will be developed at Umhlanga College, it is not an essential tool in the development of the chess programme.

For those pupils who show promise and wish to pursue chess as a sport, there are many opportunities available. In South Africa, chess is recognised by the National Olympic Committee of South Africa (NOCSA) as a sport. Pupils can be selected to participate in international competitions and can achieve South African junior colours up to the age of 20. Internationally, boys and girls compete separately and can gain selection in Under 10, Under 12, Under 14, Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 age groups.

Games at this level are played over a time-controlled period of four to five hours per game. Children as young as eight years old play this length game. KwaZulu-Natal has a strong interschool chess league and regular tournaments take place. Pupils at the highest level employ private coaches to help them reach the peak of their game. It is
also interesting to note that these children adhere to a strict diet, as there is a strong correlation between a healthy body and a healthy mind.

Chess is a valuable life skill

While it is not Umhlanga College’s aim to make every pupil at the school a chess Grandmaster, participation in the game will hopefully provide those pupils with natural flair, the opportunity to develop their skill to the maximum. For other pupils, chess can improve their overall academic ability and also introduce them to a game that they can play for the rest of their lives, no matter their age, or physical build.

Chris Taylor is Head of the Intermediate Phase at Umhlanga College.


Category: Featured Articles, Summer 2010

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