Friday, January 27, 2012

Chess in the Philippine School Curriculum

Given the many benefits of chess, the proposal to include it as part of the Philippines' school curriculum has long been thought of. Its realization has long been a dream of leading chess players in the country.

I can remember that decades ago leading Filipino chess grandmasters have nurtured the idea that including chess as one of the subjects for graduation would be very beneficial to students. They correctly asserted, among others, that the game can be a very effective instrument in fostering intellectual development among students because chess is primarily a mind game.

This idea of including chess as part of the school curriculum is shared by several countries. In fact, Armenia has already made it compulsory in its primary school curriculum (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/15/armenia-chess-compulsory-schools). The main reason is that "teaching chess in school is about building character, not breeding chess champions". Armenia led by super chess grandmaster Levon Aronian is already considered a chess powerhouse in the world! Yet, it decided to make chess a part of its curriculum recognizing that game is not only good for intellectual growth but also in character building and emotional development.

Former World Women's Chess Champion Susan Polgar is also an advocate of making chess part of the school's curriculum. "Polgar’s mantra is that chess teaches discipline, analytical thinking, time management, focus and patience — skills that can be useful throughout life. She cites countries, like Armenia, where chess is either a mandatory part of school curriculums, especially in the early elementary years, or strongly encouraged.” (
http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/warren-make-chess-part-of-the-curriculum) In chess, perseverance, confidence, humility, and respect is indeed developed. The player has to persevere and be confident to achieve victory but defeat instantaneously instills humility and respect.

With the introduction of chess as a subject in school and a requirement for graduation, students can have a venue to exercise their minds enabling them to accept the knowledge taught in other subjects more quickly.  It can be considered as a form of "stretching exercise" prior to engaging in strenuous physical activities. If the mind is already used to solving intellectual challenges, such as finding solutions to tactical problems in chess games, the absorption of knowledge can be made with ease and with less difficulty. It is a very good activity to ensure that the mind is ready to accept and process the influx of knowledge and lessons.  In one school day, a student has several subjects to attend to. In every subject, the student has to listen attentively, take down notes, participate during discussions, review and be ready for forthcoming examinations. These activities can be very difficult for the mind that has been dormant for such a long time. With chess, the mind is continually kept alert and attentive.  
  
Chess can help students to concentrate. It is a game that requires a player to be attentive in each and every move that is made on the board. Chess is likewise a practical application of logic where "combinations", "tactics" and "strategy" can only succeed if executed in a logical manner.  In this game, students can learn coherence among pieces for purposes of launching an "attack" or employing an effective "defense".

Numerical value that is similarly learned in basic mathematics is also present in a chess game. The precise calculations of the value of a specific piece as against the resulting positional advantage in the event that a "sacrifice" is made is a common exercise in the game.  As several concepts have to be learned in chess, students can be required to visit hundreds, if not thousands of chess books, to get a good grasp of the principles such as "centralization", "blockade", “overprotection” and “weak squares”. Thus, students are instantly introduced to the value of books in acquiring knowledge and information.

Logic, as a subject in college, can be very difficult to learn without any background on the principles involved. With chess, students can have a preview on inference and correct reasoning. If the sequence of moves are incoherent and illogical, the conceived attack will result to failure or the intended defense is nothing but futile. Each move has to be based on a logical strategic plan that has to be executed accurately. Students can have a clear grasp of logic and what it means in real life. The study of tactical gems culled in volumes of chess games can be very good example of the beauty of logical thought. Thus, logic can be appreciated by students in a realistic and practical manner without compromising the principles of the subject.

With the help of chess, students would have a different concept of of "Filipino time". They would no longer equate it to "tardiness". Chess would teach the students the value of time. In chess tournaments, where games are regulated by time limits, the player learns to appreciate and value time. The player has to utilize time in the most efficient and effective manner. Time, in the game of chess, is indeed gold! Every second has to be spent wisely.

Chess can also help students to be calm amidst tremendous pressure. In chess, the player who remains calm even under time pressure often emerges victorious.  Thus, the game of chess can develop in every student that strength of character not to panic even in the face of calamities.  This trait is very important in a calamity stricken country like the Philippines. Our students should learn not to panic during typhoon, landslides, floods, and other dangerous situations. Panic often aggravates difficult situations. 

Since chess inculcates discipline, the study of chess can help transform our students into well-disciplined citizens in the future.  It is once said that for the Philippines to progress, discipline is the key!  Chess is an effective tool in inculcating the needed discipline among students. For every game that is played, a chess player should have that discipline to concentrate and focus.

Moreover, chess is also a cheaper alternative to computer games. With a chessboard several games can already be played. The only expensive purchase is the “chess clock”. I can see several students who, during their spare time, are in computer gaming centers. The payment in renting these machines are very expensive! With chess, students can have a cheaper way to deal with their spare time.

The continuous inclusion of chess as part of the curriculum would definitely result to the increase in the numbers of grandmasters in the country. While the Philippines produced Asia's first chess grandmaster in Eugene Torre in 1974, countries such as China and Vietnam has overtaken us as a major chess power in the region. One reason, I often heard from chess players is the financial difficulty of pursuing a chess career due to a very minimal, it not total lack of support from the government and the private sector. The aspiring chess grandmaster has to rely on his or her own financial resources to achieve the dream of being included in the elite group.

I hope that the present Administration continue to support the previous Executive Order issued by the former Philippine President to “encourage children to play chess in accordance with the Grassroots Program of the Philippine Sports Commission” including the Department of Education (DepEd) memorandum entitled "Strengthening the Development of Higher Order Thinking Skills and Values Among Children Through Chess."  This is despite the fact that chess being a non-spectator sport, unlike basketball and boxing, makes the task of finding corporate sponsors very difficult. There are really very few corporations who would invest in the fledgling Filipino chess player because of the difficulty in getting a return of the investment.

It is high time for government to continue supporting chess as one sport Filipinos can definitely excel in. Our height disadvantage will never be a factor. In chess, all beings are “realistically equal”. We Filipinos have shown since the time of Rizal that our intellectual ability is definitely not inferior compared to other nationalities.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I think some schools in the Philippines today have incorporated chess already in the curriculum. The idea is very simple, play the game of chess to improve the thinking and decision-making skills of schoolchildren. Parents have played an important role in encouraging their kids to learn chess because the benefits it brings can be applied to their studies in school.

http://smartdolphins.net/school-chess-classes/ sustains the benefits brought by chess to kids. You might want to check the program they offer for schoolchildren.