Schools can use chess to raise intellect

Stabroek News
March 30, 2001

Dear Editor,

I am well aware of everyone's interest in the continuing saga which is Elections 2001,and it is indeed, of great importance to us all. But I'd like to detour, if I may, to something which had a profound effect on me, and should be of great interest to many of your readers, especially our concerned parents.

I was reading the Education section of the Jamaica Observer (Wednesday, March 28,2001) on the internet, and came upon an article captioned" Schools use chess to raise intellect"-20 sign on to new programme this year [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ]. What a revelation!

The article speaks about 20 primary and secondary schools from the Corporate Area, St. Catherine and Montego Bay signing up with a new Chess in Schools Programme, being conducted by National Master, Geoffrey Byfield. It begins, "More schools are turning to chess in a determined effort to enhance the social and academic skills of their students. They are doing so on the basis of research that proves that children playing chess can significantly improve their thinking skills, concentration, memory and social skills".

According to Byfield, there has been significant interest in the game by schools and sponsors, raising hope for a new generation of intellectuals.

"The game is being used to challenge bright children and also to stimulate the more challenged children. "It works well, he said, because children normally perceive chess, not as work, but as fun. "But the extent to which you're required to stretch yourself intellectually is higher in a game of chess than in ordinary school work."

The article then pointed out that the concept of using chess as an educational tool is not new, with reference to research conducted on Venezuelan schools in 1984,showing that the game accelerated the increase of intelligence quotient(IQ)in elementary age children, the programme was expanded ,and in 1988,chess lessons were conducted in all of Venezuela's schools. Chess is now part of the curricula of thousands of schools in nearly 30 countries around the world, including the United States, Russia, Germany, Cuba and Yugoslavia.

Also of interest to me, was the fact that Scotiabank in Jamaica, has joined the Chess in Schools Programme, which was launched in January this year. They are sponsoring the purchase of books, chess sets used in the schools and help in its promotion.

Anyone remember Forbes Burnham? A passionate chess enthusiast, and one-time President of the federation! In his day, I, as a lover of the game could look forward to the monthly tournaments arranged by the then Guyana Chess Federation, at the Teachers' Association building, and also reading the chess magazine, Ajedrez. Mr. Burnham was even responsible for the allocation of a Main Street building as the federation's headquarters. In the year's following his passing, everything has disintegrated. I doubt whether there are more than 5,000 true followers of the game in Guyana, children included! I myself have to go on the internet to play, what a shame!

Stabroek News to their credit, carries articles by Errol Tiwari, which leads me to believe that there is still some hope. The bottom line however, is that the much-maligned Forbes Burnham, was more in tune than most of his detractors could have imagined. We have deviated from pursuits which require discipline and thinking, such as Chess, Mass Games(Chinese could attest to this as a great form of discipline of the mind),and last, but not least the Guyana National Service, to overt lawless behaviour in schools and beyond, with the recent call by the Education Ministry, for a curb in school-hour wandering, as a recent example.

It would be refreshing if some of these undertakings could be re-visited, we're desperately in need of a change!

Yours faithfully,
Nigel Mc Kenzie