In our enthusiasm for learning through gaming, might we be overlooking one of the oldest games in the world – chess? There is sufficient belief in its contribution to learning in general, that countries as varied as America, Russia and Venezuela include the game – and its study – in the curriculum. Closer to home, Chess Scotland is very active in school life (look for Schools link in menu on left-hand side).
Google Alerts threw a pdf document my way entitled the Benefits of Chess in Education, in which, like music, chess is shown to strengthen other domains – reading, maths, logic, planning, problem solving, juggling options. There appear also to be social and behavioural benefits.
The chess community has not been slow to augment traditional over the board games and analytical books with a variety of hi-tech and online resources: chess computers; software; websites; gaming sites. YouTube features many instructional videos on openings and endgames in addition to more performance-based films such as this amazing blitz game (even the physical co-ordination is impressive – let alone the mental performance):
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or this simul, in which Garry Kasparov defeats 25 opponents:
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Perhaps, though, despite all this, the game of chess continues to labour under the image of being a geeky game? Well, not in South Bronx, where the Dark Knights record against schools which can afford private coaching is very impressive.
One of the thorniest questions in any justice debate is “what is prison for?” Punishment? Rehabilitation? The protection of society? A mixture of the above and more? As far as punishment goes, the debate continues. Is simply being there the punishment? Is the prison simply the location where punishments (imposition of this – denial of that) are administered? The perspective of the victims of crime are often brought into the debate. Such a conversation recently unfolded on Radio 4’s Today on the subject of music in prisons (scroll down to 0743 – the time this item was broadcast).
The discussion was prompted by the installation of listening posts in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where visitors can hear the compositions of offenders. Reporter, Nicola Stanbridge, discussed the varying points of view with Sara Lee (Projects Coordinator, Irene Taylor Trust “Music In Prisons”), Dr Loraine Gelsthorpe (University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology) and a former prisoner. Needless to say, the conversations were punctuated by recordings of Johnny Cash from Folsom Prison.
Dr Gelsthorpe listed the rehabilitative benefits of involvement as including: “well-being, relatedness, confidence & learning.” These terms will surely resonate with anyone connected to the changes currently being wrought in Scottish education by A Curriculum for Excellence. Particularly withdrawn or troublesome prisoners, who had not previously taken part in education (in any sense that mainstream teaching would imply) were often targeted for this programme.
I looked in vain on the website of the Royal Festival Hall for a link to this project – but did stumble upon Art by Offenders (Koestler Exhibition).
I taught a guitar class in HM Prison Edinburgh (Saughton) in the late 80s. As far as I could make out (I was only there one evening per week) the most popular classes were Art, Music, Maths (numeracy) & Chess. These relatively informal classes ran alongside a more formal Open University programme.