‘Chess for Change’ revolution on the move in SA schools

CAPE DREAMS REPORTER
CAPE TOWN, May 23 – Chess is all about making moves. In South Africa, the game, which has been recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is certainly making moves as it starts to change the lives of many schoolchildren who benefit from the skills it requires.

The ‘Chess for Change’ project was launched by South African David Berman, who now lives in New York.

Berman attended school in Durban where he describes himself as a mediocre student who was bullied at times. To avoid such bullying he sneaked into the school library where he discovered chess, which changed his life forever.

With all the skills he derived from chess, he suddenly excelled academically to the extent that he later obtained his MBA degree from Harvard University and is now a highly-respected business analyst owning his own company.

Berman decided to give back and that the group who could benefit the most would be the young primary schoolchildren from disadvantaged areas and schools in South Africa.

The advantages of playing chess are huge and include brain development, decision making, concentration, analytical thinking, improved learning, ability to strategise, foresight, planning, discipline, memory skills and more.

And what has been proven is that playing chess increases and improves mathematical skills.

Former headmaster and one of the former top South African chess players Howard Goldberg, who manages the Chess for Chess teachers in SA, described a school in the township near Hermanus whose mathematics results of those being taught chess had improved dramatically.

On a visit to the school near Kensington children in Grade 1 were doing calculations done by Grade 3s and 4s.

Another plus is that the Chess for Change initiative provides chess teachers to the schools at no charge whatsoever.

It’s simply about empowering the children and giving them opportunities that they would otherwise not get.

Chess, and the skills that chess provide has led to a chess revolution in South Africa, resulting in other businesses and charities following suit in giving more and more opportunities to young chess children, one especially which teaches thousands of children in Soweto.

Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov visited our shores as a guest through the efforts and work of Chess for Change. Even former president Jacob Zuma, through Chess for Change, publicly played a game on Robben Island.

The programme in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is teaching almost 10 000 children a week and according to Berman, the idea is to reach more and more disadvantaged schools to give the children skills through chess.

Chess for Change is summed up by a 6-year-old-boy who waits for every Tuesday with great excitement to play the game.

“I live in a small house, there are guns and drugs and violence. I dream of becoming a chess champion and I will.”

Berman’s programme has had a huge impact on the lives of tens of thousands of children over the past decade.

Children who thought they couldn’t play and learn the game, now know they can. Children who thought they had no future who now know they do.

And if the IOC recognises that chess is a sport, who knows what the future holds.

If chess is one day part of the Olympics, a South African team, with some of these schoolchildren, could be flying the flag, hopefully to the sounds of Checkmate!

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