Two years ago, Arti Ramroop stunned the country when she secured passes in all 21 subjects she wrote in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
Can the game of chess help to build a nation of thinkers? Ian Wilkinson certainly thinks so, and the prominent Jamaican lawyer has established an organisation, the Magnificent Chess Foundation, specifically to achieve that purpose.
So far, Wilkinson’s MCF has demonstrated its potential by the success its chess-in-schools programme has achieved in Jamaica and, now that he has joined the Kasparov team contesting the coming FIDE presidential elections, he may hope to be in a key position to expand this initiative throughout the region and beyond.
Wilkinson says, “Chess is about thinking, planning ahead, strategising, and it’s exciting, so every body should learn to play chess.” He believes the game of skill can can contribute to improving educational standards and reducing crime.
“We at the Magnificent Chess Foundation are building a nation of thinkers in Jamaica, and we’d like to extend it to the Caribbean because we realise this is the way forward to economic development and a great way of life for the Caribbean people.
“At the end of the day, chess is about thinking, and if you can’t think you can’t progress. It’s as simple as that,” he observed.
President of both the Jamaica Bar Association and the Jamaica Chess Federation, Wilkinson has made a unique and enormous contribution to both his profession and to the sport he loves. Space in this column will not permit a true accounting of his achievements in the law; so DR leaves that task for another place. His distinction in both, however, has earned the Jamaican QC repeated appointments by FIDE to the World Chess Court sitting on a number of contentious issues including the famous “toiletgate” case which arose between Topalov and Kramnik at the 2006 world championship match.
While the proposed chess-in-schools programme promised by FIDE almost two years ago is yet to get off the ground in T&T, Wilkinson’s Magnificent Chess Foundation, launched by him in 2007, is already a resounding success with the game being taught in scores of schools to thousands of students as an item on the curriculum. Beyond that, the MCF has introduced a chess-in-communities programme enjoying enthusiastic response and the hope of replicating it throughout Jamaica especially in troubled areas.
School principals, according to a report in the Jamaica Observer, have reported significant improvement in student application and progress as a result of their involvement in the MCF programme. After thanking Wilkinson for his innovation, Principal Bryan Guscott said he had noticed “an improvement in behaviour, self-confidence, self-esteem and social skills” among the 333 students of Greenwich All Age who were involved in the MCF initiative.
In her testimonial, Principal of Richmond Park Prepatory Helen Douglas said the programme had “stimulated the minds of students to concentrate and think in a logical and reasoned manner, thereby contributing to improved performance in mathematics in particular.”
At Ewarton Primary School in St Catherine, Principal Marjorie Edwards-Bailey integrated the teaching of mathematics with chess in a programme she called “Chess-matics.” This was in response to concerns among educators across Jamaica about the low performance of students in mathematics. She reported that since the programme started “some students have become more focused, disciplined and receptive to teaching and learning. They participate more in class and attempt to do more questions as their confidence and reading skills developed, and there has been improvement in students’ mathematics grades.”
In a previous article, DR described Wilkinson as Jamaica’s “Mr Chess” for his comprehensive and expansive contribution to every aspect of the sport. As a player, he represented Jamaica at the 36th Olympiad, as a coach he captained the Jamaica team at the Bled Olympiad, as an official he served as Jamaica Chess Federation president for five consecutive two-year terms, as a writer he has produced two history making books, Magnificent in Bled and Excitement Galore: Chess In All Its Glory. In terms of his experience, achievements and objectives, DR can think of no better benefactor of the game than the Jamaican giant to partner Kasparov in the bid to launch a new and refreshing era of chess advancement in the world.