International co-operation and a stronger commitment towards education is the way forward for school chess. This is the main conclusions of the fifth London Chess Conference which brought together eighty activists and researchers from 24 countries during the first week-end of the London Chess Classic, that was sponsored by Chess in Schools and Communities, the European Chess Union and benefiting from Erasmus Plus mobility grants.
Most attendees accepted that a distinction must be made between scholastic chess that is oriented towards school curricula and delivered by regular teachers who have been trained on chess didactics and how to integrate chess with the school curriculum from competitive school chess that is mostly an after-school activity delivered by chess tutors or teachers with the goal of finding and nurturing chess talent. It was noted that whilst most research scarcely details the method and content of chess instruction, future studies must look at precisely how chess is taught and how it is connected to the school curriculum.
Another flaw with existing research studies is in their design. One cannot prove a causal effect without having both an active and a passive control group. “Chess instruction is not a magic bullet but has a good placebo effect”, said Professor Fernand Gobet who has been warning against this flaw in the study design for fifteen years. He reckons that most studies were conducted by chess proponents who were satisfied to produce a positive result irrespective that the basic design is inadequate. Three-group-designs are standard in video games as well as on music instruction and cognitive training, which Gobet and his PhD student Giovanni Sala have systematically reviewed. Their verdict is that cognitive effects of these several types of intervention are close to zero. If anything, chess is doing slightly better, said Gobet, and encourages us not to focus only on cognitive effects: “Decide what you want to reach in scholastic chess and customise your tools!”
In order to move ahead, scholastic chess organisations should not only focus on their impact but also what their learn during projects. The value of formative evaluations was argued in a lecture and workshop by Jakob Rathlev from the Danish Scholastic Chess Association and Professor Brian Kisida from the University of Missouri professor who advises the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St. Louis.
Professor William Bart´s several suggestions to improve the state of research found a mixed response. While a centre for scholastic chess research would be a very useful resource, it is not likely to materialise in the near future. More practical would be the establishment of a Journal of Scholastic Chess. The consensus is to start with the creation of an international network of scholars and key activists engaged in networking and project building. The next step will be to create a map of knowledge on which to base a future research agenda. Progress on this front as well as on the CHAMPS (Chess and Mathematics in Primary Schools) Erasmus Plus project that was launched at the conference will be reported at our sixth edition during the London Chess Classic in December 2018.