When I heard that the theme of this year’s London Chess Conference was going to be ‘Chess and Female Empowerment,’ I wanted to be there. I didn’t know what chess and female empowerment was, exactly, but it sounded intriguing. The organisers accepted my proposal to give a talk called ‘Chess is My Passport’, about how chess had taken me all over the world and brought me into contact with interesting people, who sometimes gave me non-chess career opportunities.
Once the other opening talks were under way I started to feel that I hadn’t taken the subject seriously enough. Other speakers had devoted years to bringing more girls into chess. I had only tried to get my daughter to play chess at primary school, and she gave up. But that makes her one of the majority of girls who try chess and give up at age 11, as we learned from the presentations. The question was why?
What is the main cause in your country why fewer girls and women pick up our game? What is your best explanation why so few females reach top levels at chess? What do you think about some of the measures federations use to promote females in chess?
Our short online questionnaire takes only five minutes to complete. You are welcome to participate regardless of your sex and if you attend the conference or not. Your input, if in by this Saturday lunch-time, will inform our debates and ultimately our results and recommendations. Here you go.
A very well organised and fruitful conference “Current trends and developments in chess education” took place in Tsakhkadzor, a resort town north of Yerevan in Armenia. Most of the speakers were connected with the Armenian school chess programme, which is easily the most ambitious in the world: all children in the 2nd to 4th grade in Armenia have two chess lessons each week. When the scheme was established the President of the Armenian Chess Federation was conveniently the President of Armenia.
As the schools chess programme developed, more and more scientists became involved. In 2018, the Chess Scientific Research Institute was established at the Armenian State Pedagogical University in Yerevan. It comprises 18 scientists from education, didactics, psychology, sociology and philosophy. The Institute’s Director, associate professor Vahan Sargsyan, is also initiating a new scientific journal that will be cover scholarly publications about educational and social aspects of chess.
The conference opening speech was delivered by Armenia’s Minister of Education Arayik Harutyunyan. Foreign speakers addressed practical angles. Belarus, Iceland and Kazakhstan sent representatives in preparation for the national roll-out of their own national school chess programmes. The character of the conference was more academic than at the informal London Chess Conferences organised by ChessPlus. The conference comprised a single stream rather than parallel sessions of workshops and debates as in London.
Smbat Lputian, the founder and leader of the Armenian school chess programme, is also the Chairman of the Education Commission of FIDE (the World Chess Federation). This newly constituted Commission held their first meeting to coincide with the Conference. The Commission sees its main objective in helping school chess programmes worldwide to raise their standards. Communication is crucial in improving the effectiveness of its mission. The construction of a new website is underway. The former system of FIDE directly providing training courses for teachers and tutors is being revised. The main link to FIDE’s former Chess in Schools Commission is that its chairman Kevin O´Connell has moved over to become Secretary of the new FIDE Education Commission.
During the parallel sessions of the conference you will have a choice where to go to. Here are brief summaries of the workshops in chronological order.
Chess in Education Strategy This two-part workshop picks up key issues from the first plenary session and addresses how strategic processes can be organised and communicated within organisations and towards stakeholders. (15-16 and 16.30-18)
Chess in Communities Chess projects that are serving social purposes in its immediate surroundings require a different outlook than competitive chess. Three project leaders share their challenges and provide inspiration. (15-16)
Chess in Prisons Chess has been a popular pasttime of prisoners for a long time. Recently it has been picked up as an intervention to educate inmates and young at-risk delinquents. Prison chess leaders come together to exchange experience and develop a joint research project. (16.30-18)
Large Scale School Chess Events They are a corner stone of promoting and marketing school chess. Presentations on the UK Chess Challenge, Belaya Ladya, Linkes Alsterufer gegen rechtes Alsterufer, Schack4an and the K12 (Super)Nationals will elaborate what makes each of theses events special, and maybe why none has a conference attached to it yet. (9.30-11)
Business Development How can you put your school chess project or teaching business on firmer ground and make it more efficient? Neil Dietsch, who after a long corporate career is running school chess in Alabama, will conduct this hands-on workshop (9.30-11)
Book Presentation: The Learning Spiral Kevin Cripe, a retired teacher who is now running a chess project for disadvantaged kids in Panama, will present and discuss his new book on chess didactics. (10-11)
Teaching Coding and Computer Skills through Chess Strategy games, and chess in particular, provide a great pathway to introduce young students to coding and teach them other computer skills. Boris Raguet, a French teacher and teacher trainer, shows how this can be accomplished. He will be introduced by David Kramaley. (10-11)
Early Years Chess Starting out on chess with preschoolers or first graders comes with special challenges but also with opportunities to use chess to promote basic numeracy, literacy and psycho motor skills. (13.45-15.15)
Making School Chess Research More Relevant Most studies of school chess have concentrated on cognitive benefits and simple comparisons with control groups of children that didn´t learn chess. While their results may be useful for marketing, different research questions and methods are required to improve the quality and efficacy of school chess. (13.45-15.15)
Promoting Social Skills through Chess Initially often targeted at mathematic and logic skills, those who teach chess in schools often find that social skills are promoted equally or even priorily. (13.45-15.15)
The saturday afternoon of the conference will start with a special debating format, the so-called „World Café“. Five interactive debates will be going on at thesame time. Each debate will be designated by a flipchart in adifferent part of the main hall. Each debate has one or two protagonists that will lead the conversation and engage those who join. After half an hour everyone but the protagonists will beinvited to change and join a different debate for the next thirty minutes. So you are supposed to pick two debates from these five on our plate this year:
Should after-school chess be taught by volunteers or by professionals? Boris Bruhn brought up this question which bugs many organisations as it has consequences on the quality assurance,trainings and support structure. What is the future of chess clubs? This question, presented by Vince Negri and Paul Barasi, arises inthe context of the relative boom of school chess at an earlier age. How should we relate to parents and teachers? These are the major stakeholders of school chess and the backdrop of the debate is a survey among parents and teachers that Graeme Gardiner has run in Australia. Kerry Turner, a consultant and academic who is far from being a chess activist, asks: Do schools teach the right subjects? What does it take to get the status of a subject? This is a goal, or at least hope, that many activists and officials are hedging.
The purpose of the debates is to exchange knowledge and to collect interesting arguments and perspectives on your debating question and to learn how aconversation on this question is evolving. All of the four debates mentioned so far are relevant for the Strategy workshops that will start later in theafternoon. The fifth debating theme is quite different: What cantable top computers add to the chess classroom? Is there a role for consumer electronics in today´s chess teaching environment? This is brought to you by Alexis Harakis and Stefan Löffler on behalf of theexhibitor Millennium Computers. Make your pick!
An article published this weekend in the Guardian newspaper examines the current state of chess in England, with a particularly harsh light being shone onto the English Chess Federation. The journalist Stephen Moss, a keen player, has spoken to many of those involved in the game, at club and grandmaster level, and identified problems which are unlikely to be restricted to England. Top of the list of concerns is the continual inability of the Federation to raise sufficient money to support top players and to develop juniors. It seems that those involved in the administration of the game are prone to squabbling amongst themselves to the detriment of pursuing strategic objectives. In spite of this, we should note that England acquitted themselves reasonably well at the European Team Championship in Iceland which finished today. They came 10th after tie-break compared to a ranking of 5th. In days gone by this would have ben a cause for concern, but today this outcome can be regarded as something of a relief.
Much of the article content is familiar to chess insiders. However, it will probably be surprising to the general public that the ECF Council ousted the Chief Executive and Marketing Director, replacing them with empty chairs, ducking the challenge of how chess is going to make a positive impact in the media and win support from government and funders. A myopia afflicts those who run the game: organising the next event takes precedence over deciding what type of events should be organised.
One of the issues the article highlights is that there is a flipside to the brilliant problem-solving mind for which chess players are famous. Problem solvers can also be problem creators. Single-minded determination can get you a long way in chess but beware losing contact with the real world.
Stephen Moss will be hosting a debate on Making Chess More Friendly on Saturday 5th December 2015.