Your Move: Does Chess Have a Place in School Curriculum?

Can playing chess make you smarter? Maybe not...but some, including Hungarian-born chess grandmaster Susan Polgar, believe that it can bring several academic benefits to elementary schoolchildren. Are schools willing to include this popular game in their school programs or are advocates and opponents simply locked in a draw?

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World Champion Pushes for Chess Classes

It's probably no small wonder that the woman known for 'breaking the gender barrier in chess', according to the Susan Polgar Foundation website, would recognize and stress the importance of chess in the social and academic development of young schoolchildren.

Polgar is the first woman in the history of chess to qualify for the Men's World Championship in 1986. She is the winner of four Women's World Chess Championships and captured her very first championship in Budapest at the age of 4! She was the top woman chess player in the world at the age of 15.

She remains a strong advocate for the inclusion of chess in school curricula around the world. She currently heads Texas Tech University's Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, which sponsors chess events across the United States. The university also offers scholarships to chess players enrolling in the institute.

Physical Education for the Brain?

Chess-playing can encourage the development of discipline, patience, focus and analytical thinking, according to Ms. Polgar. It is also believed to be beneficial to learning abstract reasoning and problem solving, not to mention self-confidence and healthy competition.

Ms. Polgar advocates that chess be taught to students in kindergarten through second grade. 'That's when thinking habits and patterns are formed,' she told The New York Times in October 2011. 'It should be mandatory, like physical education.'

She adds that test scores for children involved in playing chess on a regular basis improve by more than 17%, compared to just 4.6% for students who are not engaged in the game.

Some who oppose integrating chess into schools say that it should be offered as an after-school activity for those who wish to play, but that it should not be a mandatory part of a traditional curriculum.

Benefits of Chess Felt Around the Globe

Proponents of chess-playing in schools cite how the practice is employed successfully around the world.

Russia has been including chess in school for nearly four decades, while the game is required in curricula in about 29 other countries, including Armenia, Spain, Peru and Canada.

The positive effects of including chess in foreign curricula could be reflected in some academic statistics. For instance, in Quebec, Canada, which was the first province to teach chess in schools, math scores are higher compared to other areas of the country. In addition, Canadian students routinely score higher than American students on international math exams.

Chess and Tutoring a Great Match

Though the argument for it is strong, there seem to be no plans to incorporate chess into the curriculum of any school in the country in the foreseeable future.

However, the game does play a major role in an approved after-school tutoring program employed in the Chicago Public Schools System. The Chess Academy uses chess as a learning tool for tutoring math and reading. A Wisconsin Center for Educational Research study in 2010 found that students made gains in both subjects after participating in the program.

So, will Ms. Polgar one day have her way? It's hard to say. But if playing chess is as beneficial to the development of our children as she and others advocate, and as the results of the Chess Academy imply, then we might hope that it's her voice we hear say, 'Checkmate!'

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