It was with a feeling of modified rapture that I greeted the recent news of government funding for chess in England.
Increased money for our national teams? Great, as long as it’s used wisely. I’m not complaining about that.
Chess boards in parks? A pointless gimmick designed to grab headlines which serves little purpose. All too typical of the way politicians seem to behave these days.
But my main problem is with the idea of throwing more money into primary school chess. Not that I’m at all surprised by this, mind you, but, like much else which has happened in junior chess over the past 30 years or so, it betrays a lack of understanding of children and childhood. The first article I wrote about primary school chess clubs was 25 years ago, and, while my views might be slightly more nuanced now, I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. If you’re interested, you can read them via several of my websites, for example here.
Let me explain.
If you want to find new prodigies, that’s great – but you have to understand that prodigies are produced by parents, not by schools. Bright children with supportive parents will often benefit from starting young, but not all children have that level of ability, and, for all sorts of understandable reasons, very few parents are in a position to be proactively supportive.
So what you do is set up social chess clubs in community centres or libraries where children and parents can learn the moves (preferably using a minichess-based method), and where children can play informally. You then set up regional, professionally run Centres of Excellence where the more ambitious and talented players can receive higher level tuition and take part in rated competitions. You go into primary schools to promote these clubs rather than promoting primary school clubs or chess on the curriculum.
If you want to make chess more popular at all levels, going into primary schools is counter-productive because children not getting help at home will make little progress and be put off, perhaps for life.
Older children, unlike younger children, can teach themselves so need a lot less parental support. What you do is go into secondary schools, running both individual and team tournaments with prizes designed to encourage mass participation. You set up links with local chess clubs and tournament organisers as well.
In real life, though, it’s not as easy as it sounds. My view for the past 20 years or more has been that we, as a society, have completely lost the point of schools, education and childhood, which is why schools and parents aren’t receptive to my ideas. I have a lot to say about this, but a chess blog isn’t the right place.
Meanwhile, I now have a website advertising our new social chess club in Twickenham, which you can, should you wish, visit here. We’ll find out how much interest, if any, there is in this sort of club when we open the doors for the first time next week.
I’ll let you know what happens.