The Impact of the London Chess Conference

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It is useful to retread the history of the conference themes. The inaugural conference on Chess and Education in 2013 uncovered a considerable number of projects that had arisen independently around the world. It became clear that many teachers, pedadogues and tutors were working in parallel on the same issues. In the previous few years there had been an upsurge of chess activity in schools not restricted to after school clubs but also within the school timetable. To need for co-ordination and leadership in the field was recognised with the creation of the Education Commission of the European Chess Union in autumn 2014.

The connection between chess and mathematics was recognised by many educationists. Such was the level of interest that the theme of the next conference was Chess and Mathematics. This brought together experts in chess, games and mathematics in 2014 for a seminal conference. The mathematicians were positive about games as a teaching tool. It cannot be ignored that chess also brought an element of fun into the classroom. We began see that teaching chess in new ways, more specifically oriented towards educational purposes, could be productive for subjects such as mathematics.

Chess is part of our social history but the social benefits of chess have often been overlooked. Our theme in 2015 was Chess and Society. Major conflicts that year caused people to flee to Europe in large numbers. We heard about how chess, which crosses language and culture barriers, was being used for refugee integration projects, with Roma communities in Eastern Europe, with excluded children, with prisoners, for children with ADHD and Aspergers, for older people and so on. People attending the conference found spirited fellow travellers with whom they could share their ideas and enthusiasm.

The quest for new methods of teaching chess for these educational purposes led to the 2016 theme of the Didactics of Chess. Finding the best way to teach chess is a considerable challenge. The Soviet Union produced a cohort of grandmasters from the 1930s. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the methods of the Soviet chess school were spread throughout the world. A highly structured training programme with focused study from a young age was the key to their success. However, this approach is unsuitable for general education where the purpose is to provide a balanced set of mental skills. Speakers at the 2016 event explained the value of teaching games in general. Other games than chess, such as go, backgammon and bridge, can also be valuable for intellectual development. One of the objectives of teaching games is for the children to become fully engaged in experience so that they achieve the full cognitive benefits. It is not necessary to play chess to a high level to obtain the benefits. This implies that we should deconstruct and isolate those elements which give rise to specific problem solving opportunities.

The theme of the 2017 Conference is Scholastic Chess. The purpose is to explore, explain, connect and co-ordinate the way in which chess is used for educational purposes in schools. The term “scholastic chess” implies the scholarly nature of the approach to chess i.e. it is chess for educational purposes. Sometimes the term is used as a shorthand to refer to chess in schools but it is necessary to distinguish between two forms of chess in schools: scholastic chess and competitive chess. The traditional approach to chess in schools has been to get the children to compete, with educational attainment being a hoped-for by-product. The modern approach is to adapt chess so that it is easier to teach and easier to learn and delivers educational benefits. Scholastic chess is taught by regular teachers rather than relying upon chess experts.

Connecting partners for co-operation in scholastic chess is one of the motivations of the London Chess Conference. We have never been particularly interested in featuring speakers who promote teaching competitive chess in schools. We strive to attract experts and educational activists who are open-minded about didactics and are prepared to learn from others and develop together. This spirit of co-operation has attracted the Education Commission of the European Chess Union to use the event as meeting venue. At this year´s Conference they have an important gathering with the recently formed Academic Advisory Board.

Grand projects have been also born at our series. The biggest Erasmus+ sponsored school chess project CASTLE (2014-2017), which has recently been successfully completed, was first presented in a side meeting at our inaugural 2013 edition. The partners of the recently approved Erasmus+ project CHAMPS (CHess And Mathematics in Primary Schools) first met together at our conferences in 2015 and 2016. Their new project will be officially launched at this year´s edition. The partners will not meet only among themselves but also with stakeholders such as the ECU Education Commission and with specially invited experts.

Co-operation was also key to a “chess in education” wiki. This was proposed by Kevin O’Connell, chair of FIDE Chess in Schools Commission. Luis Blasco de la Cruz, a school chess activist and IT professional from Madrid, is now co-ordinating the development effort. Luis will present the current state of the project and hopes to find contributors at our conference.

Our keynote speaker, Professor William Bart from the University of Minnesota will make the constructive proposal that there should be international centre for scholastic chess research to improve its quality, push its relevance and pool resources. Bringing together teachers and social scientists who study the effects of chess in education has always been a part of the London Chess Conference. The research statistician Giovanni Sala joined the psychology department under Professor Fernand Gobet at Liverpool University where he has been evaluating the impact of chess. Reinaldo Golmia Dante, an associate professor of education from Brazil, whom we connected with our conference speaker and neuroscientist Michelle Ellefson, is shortly starting to work with her at Cambridge University. We look forward to learning more about their exciting project and earlier school chess research in Brazil.

The ECU recently launched its new certification scheme for School Chess Teachers. The first training course was held in Madrid in July and the second course will be held in London in mid-October. The course was conceived and developed by Jesper Hall and John Foley who first met at the London Chess Conference and who are both on the Education Commission of the European Chess Union. They will present the course concept at the Conference.

Many other events happened as a result of connections made at the London Conference e.g.  Chess in School conferences  in Poland and Norway, and the Baltic Summer Chess Camp. If you made some special connections please let us know.

Join us to find and meet the best co-operation partners for your project! We are happy to include your call for partners in the programme.

About John Foley

Director, London Chess Conference Member, Education Commission, European Chess Union Promoting chess as a way to develop thinking skills

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