Trinidad and Tobago is the first country in the western hemisphere and the third in the world to benefit from assistance from FIDE, the world chess body, for setting up a chess-in-schools programme.
A memorandum of understanding setting out the basic ingredients for such a programme was signed on Monday at the Ministry of Education.
Endorsing the agreement were Nigel Freeman, Executive Director of FIDE; Kathleen Thomas, Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry and Russell Smith, president of the T&T Chess Association. Freeman, who had accompanied FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to Suriname for the Umada Cup International, flew into Trinidad instead of Ilyumzhinov who was called back to Russia by recently re-elected President Vladimir Putin.
As Freeman explained it to DR, the MOU provides for the teaching of chess to school teachers who, in turn, will teach the game to their students as non-academic subjects.
Initially, he said, FIDE will provide two trainers to carry out this enabling function. But exactly who these trainers would be he could not say at they were still working out the operational specifics of the programme.
It is envisioned that the preliminary stage would extend over the next four years before the actual teaching of chess in schools begins.
Following the signing ceremony in Port-of-Spain, the FIDE Executive Director addressed a grathering of student teachers at the UTT College in Valsayn, appealing to them to take up the offer and adopt the sport of chess as one of their teaching disciplines.
Freeman spoke about the mind-improving benefits of chess and provoked a peal of laughter from his largely female audience when he expressed the hope that their involvement in the programme could result in turning around the traditional gender imbalance existing in the sport. “Boys are better at chess, and we don’t know why,” he said. “Maybe Trinidad and Tobago will be able to change this pattern and show that girls are better.”
During his brief stay in Trinidad, the FIDE Executive Director was accompanied by Allan Herbert, chairman of the FIDE Development Committee, and a group of T&T Chess Association officials including president Smith, first vice president Roderick Noel and second vice president Hayden Lee.
Also addressing the UTT student teachers, Herbert gave a brief history of the “ancient and fascinating” game which he said dated back to the seventh century in Asia.
He recalled that chess was played on an organised basis in the West Indies for more than a century as the first inter-colonial championship involving T&T, Barbados and Guyana was held in 1898. He noted that T&T had taken the lead as the first country in the western hemisphere to formally sign an agreement with FIDE to push this initiative in schools.
He told the student teachers they would have the opportunity to play a key part in spearheading the programme designed to employ chess as an educational tool.
It seems important for this programme to succeed as its success would provide FIDE with the added incentive to expand its programme to other countries, especially small developing states such as ours. Freeman told DR, in fact, that so far FIDE had initiated the plan in just two other countries, Slovenia and Slovakia.
Just how many student teachers will eventually join this programme DR can only guess, but it seems important as an incentive to inform them that, even without any assistance from FIDE, a growing number of countries across the globe are enhancing their educational systems by introducing chess into the curriculum of their schools.
They are inspired to do so by the results of several expert studies which indicate the significant contribution the world’s greatest mind game can play in the education of children.
According to Chess-In-The-Schools of New York, two studies conducted by noted educational psychologist Stuart M Magulies, PhD demonstrated that children who participated in the programme showed improved scores on standardised tests.
“The gains were even greater among children with low or average initial scores. Children who were in the non-chess playing group showed no gains,” he noted.
The other study showed overall success rate of participating children was 91.4 per cent “in handling real life situations with emotional intelligence” as compared to 64.4 per cent for those who were not involved in the programme.
Commenting on the initiative, Harold O. Levy, Former Chancellor, Board of Education of New York City, said: “The Chess-in-the Schools programme has demonstrated how through chess children can improve their concentration, work habits, logical thinking and other skills related to school success.”
In India, the MindChampions’ Academy (MCA), a joint non-profit initiative between World Champion GM Viswanathan Anand and NIIT Ltd, has over the last decade fostered over 8,000 chess clubs with more than 8,000,000 students as its members in schools across the country.
Former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov along with President of the European Chess Union, Silvio Danilov, recently received the support of the European Commission for Education for establishing a European-wide chess education programme.
T&T teachers will now have an opportunity to enjoy the excitement of the royal game themselves and, at the same time, promote a programme designed to enhance the mental and psychological strength of their young charges.