Jun 22, 2012
Homegrown initiative using chess to bolster the analytical prowess of South African youthBack
Natal|Pretoria|Africa|Education|Merwe|MFL|Nuclear|System|Africa|Democratic Republic Of Congo|South Africa|Analytical Brain Processing Skills|Mining|Garry Kasparov|Infrastructure|Jacob Zuma|Kelvin Kemm|Marisa Van Der Merwe|Mickey Scheepers
© Reuse this
The Moves for Life (MFL) programme aims to unlock children’s latent intellectual potential through structured exposure to the game of chess – which stimulates the same analytical cerebral functions as academic subjects such as maths and science – and ultimately improve the national performance in these areas.
“Chess essentially rewires the brain, encouraging one to think in a far more logical fashion. It is not just a game,” explains nuclear physicist and MFL cofounder Kelvin Kemm.
He points out that it provides rich, early-age ‘brain training’, and encourages an understanding of concepts such as instantaneous feedback, problem solving, planning and anticipation, and emphasises that the earlier these thinking skills are stimulated, the better.
MFL cofounder Marisa van der Merwe, a long-time chess tutor and developer of MFL’s junior programme, MiniChess, adds that it is critical to expose children at the earliest possible age.
“Many children in South Africa who come from underprivileged homes are not stimulated and, as a result, the necessary brain development does not take place. This programme will eliminate the issue of children who are not mentally prepared to deal with the start of their academic career,” she says.
The MFL programme, which has been implemented at more than 70 schools across the country since its inception in 2010, hosts over 11 000 children each week and has also produced some unexpected results.
“The most surprising upshot of this process is the degree to which the children’s self-confidence has improved, because, for some of them, this is the first time they feel capable of learning and sense that they are part of a group,” explains MFL cofounder Mickey Scheepers.
Educators also report that absenteeism has decreased and discipline has improved among learners who participate in the course.
Despite the obvious benefits for children in disadvantaged areas, the programme is not exclusively designed for socioeconomically depressed schools, but is also implemented at private institutions.
Significantly, it comprises two separate syllabi – the MiniChess programme, aimed at children between the ages of five and eight, and the MasterMoves programme for children nine and older.
MiniChess is a holistic, wholly South African-designed curriculum, where each learner is supplied with a workbook, manual, training and other necessary equipment. Educators also receive training, which enables them to teach the children in an enjoyable, creative way.
Scheepers emphasises that despite using the basic principles of chess, MiniChess is not designed simply to teach the children how to play the game.
“The big difference between what we are doing and what other chess-related programmes have done in the past is that we use the rules of chess to teach maths skills. The kids only touch a chess piece in lesson eight,” he asserts.
Van der Merwe developed the MiniChess programme following the realisation that the chessboard can ultimately be deconstructed into a simple numbers grid. The grid is then used to teach concepts such as ‘in the middle’, ‘outside’ as well as a comprehension of graphs, lines, rows and spatial orientation.
In addition, the fact that the MiniChess programme targets children who are still undergoing the formation of their analytical brain processing skills means that it induces them to think and com- prehend in a problem-solving manner, which is instrumental in later academic successes.
Alternatively, the MasterMoves programme teaches the actual game of chess and is operated and registered at schools as an extracurricular activity once a week.
While not currently acknowledged as part of the official academic curriculum, the ultimate object of MFL is for it to be rolled out nationwide as an official subject.
“While the Department of Basic Education does not yet sustain the programme financially, they are supporting our going to schools. Ultimately, however, we want it acknowledged as a government-sanctioned subject,” says Scheepers.
“He says it is the best, most scientific junior chess programme he has ever observed, and that is quite a vote of confidence,” says Kemm.
Since the launch of MFL, Kasparov has visited South Africa twice to show his support, and has established the Kasparov Chess Foundation: Africa, through which he hopes to implement the MFL concept in other Southern African States.
Adding to the programme’s high-profile support base is South African President Jacob Zuma who, after hearing about the initiative, contacted the founders and invited them to visit him at his official residence in Pretoria, where he accepted their request to become the programme’s patron.
“He wanted to know all about the programme, and explained that, as an avid chess player, he understood the impact the game could have,” says Kemm.
Zuma explained at the launch of MFL that he believed chess should be mainstreamed as a sport, and that its ability to supercede barriers contiguous to age, language, wealth and race is significant.
“I learnt to play chess in unfavourable conditions, on Robben Island, serving a ten-year prison sentence, where we used to make chess boards from thin cardboard and chess pieces from corks. Given the opportunity, I would have loved to have learnt how to play at an earlier stage of my life,” he noted.
He added that no amount of video games could teach a child the same level of patience, strategic thinking, concentration, analytical skills and attention to detail than the game of chess.
Zuma has since participated in a chess tournament organised in his KwaZulu-Natal-based hometown of Nkandla, where MFL has been rolled out to six primary schools in the area, following contributions from mining giant BHP Billiton, which operates aluminium interests in nearby Richards Bay.
Like BHP Billiton, sponsor companies can select their areas of contribution to coincide with those parts of the country in which they hold considerable interests.
Alternatively, funding is often secured by the parents or teachers, who recognise the value of the programme and canvass for financial contributions among their peers.
Inherent to the success of MFL in such schools is the fact that the amount required to fund a learner for a year is limited to between R150 and R200, provided that it is executed in at least five schools in the vicinity. The cost of the second year drops to around R140 and even more in the third year.
“It is inexpensive because you need virtually no infrastructure. Chess can be played indoors or out, rain or shine, with or without electricity,” notes Scheepers.
The bulk of the capital expenditure goes towards the training and employing of coaches and educators, as well as providing supporting materials such as workbooks and chess sets. These skilled coaches, who are employed on a six-month contractual basis, are deployed to areas where they are then responsible for training the teachers in the MiniChess programme as well as instituting MasterMoves.
“This adds a significant job-creation aspect to the programme, as the majority of the current coaches are unemployed students looking for work,” says Scheepers.
Interestingly, the MFL programme, while unique in its focus and approach, is not the first chess-based programme to be introduced to the African educational system.
In 1974, scholars who participated in a study conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo, previously Zaire, demonstrated significant advancement in spatial and numerical abilities, compared with the nonplaying control group.
Additional findings proved that ability in chess is not a result of the presence of only one or two abilities in an individual, but that several aptitudes complement one another during the learning, and playing, of the game.
“That is exactly what we are finding here,” says Scheepers, iterating that one of the most important elements of the programme is guiding children from a belief that they cannot do something to proving they can.
“Essentially what we’re doing, for R200 a year, is feeding the brain,” he notes.
Edited by: Terence Creamer© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Labour and Skills Development News
Updated 13 minutes ago July new vehicle sales declined by 1.5%, to 57 670 units, compared with the same month last year, reported the Department of Trade and Industry on Friday. The South African new passenger car market, at 39 945 units, shrunk by 418 units, or 1%, compared with July last...
Updated 1 hour 12 minutes ago Changes had to be made in South Africa’s water and sanitation sector to ensure challenges were resolved effectively, as well as to fast-track the country’s socioeconomic transformation, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane told delegates at the 2014...
Updated 1 hour 29 minutes ago Steel producer ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) has confirmed that the reline project at its Newcastle mill, in KwaZulu-Natal, has hit snags and that the project, which was initially expected to be completed four months after the May 12 shutdown began, will be...
Recent Research Reports
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
Real Economy Insight: Steel 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the steel industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the global and South African steel and stainless steel markets, South Africa’s major steel producers and events that have shaped these markets.
This Week's Magazine
South African construction company Group Five says work on the rehabilitation of the 800 km stretch of the Plumtree–Mutare highway, in Zimbabwe, should be completed by the end of this year. Giving evidence before the Parliamentary Porfolio Committee on Transport...
The Space Operations division of the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) revealed on July 17 that it had supported the successful launch of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite on July 2. The...
Phase 1A of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system should carry around 42 000 people a day, while it was been expected that Phase 1B, rolled out last year, would add another 60 000 daily passengers. However, the entire system is currently carrying...
A stormwater project in Bedforview, east of Johannesburg, has stalled for eight months after project managers in the Ekurhuleni municipality resigned and municipal managers were placed on special leave without designating replacements. Construction to reinforce the...
The design of the Beit Bridge border post is the biggest impediment to efficient freight movement between Zimbabwe and South Africa, says Cross-border Road Transport Agency CEO Sipho Khumalo. Beit Bridge is the busiest border post in Africa. A research study on the...