Suppose you divided school children into two groups based upon academic abilities. The smart children are given extra language lessons; the not-so-smart group play chess. All the other classes are shared. Who does better when it comes to the academic results? A remarkable finding from Hungary is that the chess group eventually outperforms the bilingual group in their thinking skills.
The Pipacsvirág Elementary School in Telki, Hungary gave the smart children the privilege of a bilingual education in 2007. They were given extra English classes for 10 lessons per week. The search was on for an activity which would stretch the other group. It needed have an impact on educational and personal development without exceeding the school budget.
After some exploration of the options, the school decided to introduce a chess and logic programme. As is well known, children regard chess more as play than study and are generally willing to engage. However, this activity was not regarded as sufficiently educational. Hence, it was supplemented by a set of logic exercises which have been cleverly integrated into the chess exercises. The school has developed the classroom materials over the intervening years in conjunction with chess education experts and psychologists. Perhaps the key to the success of the programme is that it is taught by the regular teachers who know the children well.
When the chess and logic programme started in 2011, all the children in third grade were tested on logical thinking, creativity and motivation. The bilingual children scored much higher reflecting the basis for the grouping. Four years later, after the chess and logic programme had been implemented during each year, the same children were tested again on a wider range of attributes:
- logical thinking
- verbal skills
- complex thinking in natural sciences
The majority of the pupils in the chess and logic learning group performed above average in the tested areas. Furthermore, fewer pupils performed lower than the average compared to the bilingual classes. The school has concluded that, based upon this evidence, the teaching of chess has a very positive impact upon children’s primary school attainment.
This was not designed as a scientific study but shows how introducing chess into the curriculum can make an educational impact. This outcome was completely unexpected. Chess had not been introduced for the Gifted and Talented children as it is in many schools – it was introduced for those children who needed development, who were having difficulties at school. It was never an experiment with the expectation that chess was going to reverse the categorisation of educational groupings.
Two children from that first class have gone on to outstanding performances this year. One pupil won the Hungarian national mathematics competition, the school having obtained first place in team competition and another pupil won the European junior rapid chess championship. Imagine if these had been the really smart children..