Schools around the world should embrace chess – it’s educational, historical, transcends language and, most importantly, is a lot of fun. Playing games is part of being human – after all, we all play games all through our lives, says Rome International School´s middle and high school librarian Carla MacCallum, writing for TES.
Of all the games that exist, it is surely chess that stand supreme above them all. This 64 square-checked board arranged eight by eight, that calls on two opposing players to try to outsmart each other and capture their opponent’s king, has beguiled players for thousands of years.
Furthermore, chess is also perfectly aligned with the ethos and aspirations of international schools. Let me explain.
1. It’s educational
You can’t play chess halfheartedly. The game demands absolute presence of mind.
As long as you are not expecting concentration ability to increase within the first 15 minutes of learning chess, playing on a regular basis over a period of time is a great way for students of all ages to increase their attention span and strategic thinking.
In chess, you win and you lose so, the more you play, the more you become aware of your strengths and weaknesses; chess players learn to be humble yet confident in their own abilities.
Playing with a younger opponent can teach students to never underestimate their adversary. The competitive element of the game is character building, and learning to lose is by far the most important lesson.
As chess lover Samuel Beckett best put it: “Don’t give up. Fail again. Fail better.”
Winning or losing is all about rules.
Chess has also taught me that children learn more about rules and hierarchy through games than education: whether playing by the rules or using imagination to challenge the status quo, games literally play an important role.
In my first year of launching the chess club at Rome International School, I taught the game and managed the club in a traditional way.
Their game much improved the moment I stepped back and let the students take over; they set their own club rules, creating a hierarchical system of elected presidents and secretaries, sharing their knowledge and strategies.
Traditionally, chess players are believed to be better mathematicians. However, research by the Education Endowment Foundation seems to challenge this commonly held notion suggesting that there is little evidence of chess making kids smarter in maths.
This may be of some consolation, particularly for those like myself whose mathematical ability had been consistently disappointing in spite of playing chess since kindergarten!
Mathematical frustrations aside, both in my personal experience and through that of my students, I found chess to be a continuous source of opportunities for personal improvement and learning.
2. It’s historical
Steeped in history, from its origins in 7th-century India to the computer games we play today, chess has been used for military purposes, it has inspired international art and literature, and has become an allegory of the human condition.
International schools are much concerned with the importance of raising students’ historical awareness and inspiring new generations to be well-grounded in traditions in order to develop new forward-thinking ideas.
Chess fits this ideal perfectly – it is a timeless game steeped in history that is also forever evolving.
Over and beyond traditional curriculum subjects, chess playing offers students the opportunity to actually engage in culture, as opposed to merely studying it!
With the great advantage of keeping parents happy while avoiding the negative eyebrow-raising reactions of video gaming.
3. It’s international
Utterly international, chess is a lingua franca that can open many doors.
As a powerful tool of socialisation among students from different backgrounds and languages, chess is offered in more schools as courses and clubs for immigrant students.
For example, when one student named Lin arrived at our school, he spoke no English. In the first few months, playing chess was the only time he could engage with the other children.
Not an exceptionally good player, he managed to make his peers laugh and smile with his somewhat imaginative strategies and his quirky sense of humour.
Our school chess club is a special moment that sees students of different ages and nationalities playing together and building our unique and diverse community.
4. It’s interdisciplinary
Neither sport, nor board game though sometimes defined as an art, or a science, chess fully deserved to be classified as a cross-genre.
The interdisciplinary essence of this game is what makes chess adaptable to many cross-curriculum initiatives.
From Shakespeare’s Tempest, to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, just to mention a few, there are many classics that are well suited for literary/ chess projects.
Indeed some basic knowledge of the game can be helpful in appreciating literature of all times.
5. It’s fun
Above all, chess is really fun!
Far from the stereotype of antisocial, eccentric nerds, who hide in the library to play chess in order to feel less awkward about their lack of aptitude at sports, chess clubs are lively, social, funny and exciting – and you don’t need to be good at maths to join them.
Still don’t believe me? Then get yourself a school chess club going and check, mate.
Click here for the original article at TES.