Category Archives: Education

Does Chess Empower Girls?

The opening speaker at the London Chess Conference 2019 was April Cronin. April is a recently retired primary school headteacher and former Irish woman’s chess champion. She has been running chess in schools for many years where she has served as a role model for girls.  Nowadays she is devoting herself to extolling the benefits of chess in primary schools (age 7-11).  She is therefore uniquely qualified to make observations on what children gain from chess and to make informed observations on gender differences.

April Cronin opening plenary at the London Chess Conference

April’s main argument is that chess empowers all children and encouraging girls to play chess allows them to participate in this most enriching of activities. However, there are certain aspects of the way that girls engage with chess that we should accommodate if we are to give them the best experiences.

She acknowledges that there is a preponderance of boys in the school chess team, at the top boards and as participants in the school chess club. She notes that the after-school club comprises 75% boys. She estimates that at the adult level around 5% are women. 

April says that chess was very empowering in her own life and strongly believes it to be empowering of the children she teaches. Extra-curricular activities have protective effects in terms of social development and staying in school. She says that all children should be given the chance to learn chess at school which can turn out to be “incredibly empowering. Chess is empowering in ways we do not fully understand. 

She notes that kids love chess. The common experience of schools is that chess starts small-scale, perhaps focusing on the less sporty children, but then the chess programmes expand rapidly. Parents are usually delighted because chess is seen as developing the brain e.g. through improved concentration. There is also widespread social approval.

There is a reason chess so effective: simulated decision making. A child needs to make many decisions during each game. They have to evaluate options. No chance is involved – the child is responsible for the result of the game. Whether they win or lose, children enjoy this freedom of choice 

You can hear April Cronin present her analysis in the video below.

Quality Issues

Can quality in school chess be measured? This was one of our debating questions on the first conference day. Sarah Kett, who lead the debating group (pictured above), reports: “The desirability of measuring school chess depends on the context. In Armenia, where all children learn chess for several school years, there is definitely a need to justify the use of taxpayers´ money.” Another key aspect was whether the students should be measured (as is usually done in research projects) or the teachers, respectively their teaching materials and methods.

If the pupils are measured, chess-related measures would be relatively straight-forward (such as ratings, proportion of children in chess clubs, proportion of children to play outside their school, proportion of children continuing to play as teenagers and later as adults) compared to measures ofeducational benefits.

There followed a workshop Quality in Chess in Education with participants from the Educational Commissions in ECU and in FIDE. Vahan Sargsyan from the Pedagogical University Yerevan, who is advising FIDE, differentiated four domains where quality can be evaluated: The quality of the curriculum, the assessment of pupils, the learning environment, and the qualification of the teachers.

The Armenian psychologist stressed that quality cannot be measured once and for all, but should be thought of as a permanent process “plan, act, check, improve, plan, act” and so on. He differentiated between universal standards that apply everywhere, and quality standards that depend on the context. Everyone in the workshop agreed that chess-related outcomes don´t matter and that educational outcomes are crucial.

Karel van Delft has captured segments from the workshop´s key speakers (in order of their appearance) Jesper Hall (ECU), Kevin O´Connell (FIDE), Vahan Sargsyan, Mads Jacobsen (Danish Scholastic Chess) and Smbat Lputian (FIDE).

Announcing a new Chess Journal

This year’s London Chess Conference will feature a presentation on a new journal for the field of chess in education. The session will feature editorial board members, offer an overview of the journal’s scope, and provide an opportunity for questions and feedback.

Jerry Nash

Chess: Education and Science is the official journal of the Chess Scientific Research Institute (CSRI) at the Kh. Abovyan Armenian State Pedagogical University. In 2019, Jerry Nash from the USA was selected as Editor in Chief and the journal’s Editorial Board was expanded. The Editorial Board anticipates the release of the first issue during the first half of 2020. 

Chess: Education and Science will include news in the field of Chess in Education, pedagogical issues in chess education, chess-related research, and literature reviews.

Journal articles will include emphasis on the following areas:

  • Psychological (cognitive processes, intelligence, psychological conditions and phenomena, etc.)
  • Sociological (the educational potential and possibilities of chess and social attitudes towards chess as an educational innovation)
  • Pedagogical (aspects of teaching chess, interdisciplinary interconnections and issues of professional training)
  • Chess (research based on the essence and uniqueness of chess in the context of education).

Contributions are being accepted for upcoming editions of the Journal. For additional information, contact Jerry Nash.

Judit Polgar Joins the Conference Team

We are pleased and honoured to reveal that Judit Polgar is part of the London Chess Conference as its Honorary Director. She has been consulting us on various aspects of the conference, its programme and its communications. As she will receive a Golden Pawn Award from the European Chess Union in Monte Carlo on 30 November, she will join the conference on the second day. She will be a discussant at the concluding round table “A Century of Women´s Chess: What have we Learned?”.

The best-ever female chess player has strong views on chess and gender. These are well-founded in her experience from growing up in a chess family to a successful career as a professional player. Even though she lead the women´s rating list for 25 years, she never aspired to win women´s titles. Instead she strived to compete with the very best regardless of gender. At her peak she was among the ten best players in the world. In the media limelight from a young age, she has sharpened her views over many interviews (one was just published on chess.com a few days ago) and public appearances.

She excelled as the main commentator of the last two world championships in 2016 in New York and in 2018 in London. The last time she participated in the London Chess Classic was in 2012 when she was interviewed by The Guardian.

Judit lobbied the European Parliament to support the introduction of chess in the education system and her country to make chess an optional subject, and most Hungarian primary schools have introduced it. Since ending her competitive career she has been promoting chess. She built a foundation and developed acclaimed teaching materials with her team. The Chess Palace Programme is already in practice for the seventh school year. Among its special features is artwork contributed by her sister Zsófia.

Judit is also the initiator and organiser of the Global Chess Festival in her home town Budapest on which we reported earlier. Among the many aspects of this wonderful festival is a conference. She has spoken about chess and education at numerous conferences and on other occasions in dozens of countries. She repeatedly visited China, where her curriculum and books are now widely in use.

In 2018 she has accepted the position of Honorary Vice President in FIDE with a focus on chess in education and on gender. “I am very pleased to see both topics united in this conference, so I feel that I must be part of it”, Judit told us when she accepted to be Honorary Conference Director.

A Day for Chess

The World Chess Federation FIDE promotes the day of its foundation 95 years ago, 20 July, as “International Chess Day”. In the Spanish and Portuguese speaking parts of the world, chess afficionados celebrate 19 November, the birthday of the third world champion José Raúl Capablanca. About 50 000 Danish pupils participate in chess activities on Skolernes Skakdag, Scholastic Chess Day, which Dansk Skoleskak, one of the leading chess in education providers, runs on a Friday every February, again on 7 February 2020. Judit Polgar has picked yet another date, the second Saturday every October, as Global Chess Day that just saw its fifth edition.

The Hungarian activist has encouraged organisers all over the globe to run chess events on this day under the motto and hashtag #ChessConnectsUs to create a Global Chess Festival in thirty countries. The biggest of these events took place in Budapest, where Judit Polgar and her team set up an impressive programme in the prestigeous National Gallery. Competition, which is dominating most chess events, was just one of many aspects along with learning, creativity, cooperation and inclusion. This video nicely captures the spirit and atmosphere.

Our conference team member Rita Atkins, who ran four mini workshops on chess and maths during the event, reports “there was a great buzz to the festival with a great crowd attending”. Among the visitors were chess dignitaries such as FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich and London Chess Classic Director Malcolm Pein as well as international chess in education experts.