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Key Insights into the Future of Chess in Education

2020 Recap

2020 was a wild year for Chess in Education (CIE) advocates.  On the chess front, it was a good, if volatile, year. Witness the recent Netflix phenomenon, The Queens Gambit, which jumped to the #1 most watched status earlier this year. Chess set sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

In the chess world, America Grandmaster and blitz chess superstar Hikaru Nakamura, became a streaming sensation.

Purveyors of chess training software and face-to-face chess training services overcame the constraints of COVID-19 to find renewed interest in this centuries-old game. Two members of the CIE Coalition, ChessKid and ChessKidsNation, report that social restrictions resulting from the pandemic led to increased interest in their online direct-to-consumer services.

Meanwhile educators found their world disrupted. Despite the best of intentions, wholesale transformations from classroom teaching to virtual teaching or some hybridized combination proved difficult and disappointing. Worries proliferate of a lost year for students.

For charitable organizations devoted to Chess in Education, such as First Move and Chess in Schools which market to schools, 2020 was a difficult year. Coping with the impact of COVID-19 left educators with little time to consider new educational options.

For beleaguered teachers, parents, and students alike 2021 offers new hope for recovery even in a changing educational landscape. Even as almost everyone longs for a return to some semblance of normalcy, we recognize the stumbling progress that has been made:

  • Teachers with newly acquired Zoom skills have a better understanding of the potential and pitfalls of online training and interaction.
  • Students and parents gained an increased awareness of the fascination and potential of chess.
  • There is increased worldwide interest connecting chess to the classroom, evidenced by work being undertaken by the education commissions of FIDE (the world chess federation) and the European Chess Union. While there are still differences in approach that need to be worked out, at least the two organizations are working together on some initial steps.

Predictions for 2021

1) Classroom Triage –> A New Normal

Educators will refocus from triage care of their schools forced on them by the COVID-19 crisis. For many this will mean simply a “return to normal”. For others it will mean an opportunity to resume a search for innovative approaches. Some states, for example New Hampshire, will experiment with replacing monolithic public school systems with hybrid systems which provide more private alternatives including charter schools.

2) New Inroads into American Culture

Chess will continue to make new inroads into our culture in a variety of new forms. Years before the Queens’ Gambit phenomenon, movies like Searching for Bobby Fisher and Brooklyn Castle were showing the impact chess across the cultural spectrum. The recent documentary film Critical Thinking continues in this tradition.

Hip-hop has recognized and drawn inspiration from the battle and mental preparedness dynamics of chess. The lead story in the January 2021 issue of Chess Life features a conversation with RZA from the Wu Tang Clan.

“It is no exaggeration to say the Wu-Tang Clan, and RZA in particular, have made an outsized contribution to the development of chess in Black and urban communities across the country. With lyrics and imagery replete with chess references, the Wu-Tang Clan has always been at the forefront of finding synergies between hip-hop, chess, and the martial arts.”

Chess has always been recognized as a game with international appeal that has endured for centuries, from the middle ages to today. Once a game of noblemen and warriors, it today crosses all classes.

3) Federal Funding for Education

CIE programs will benefit from federal funding targeted to schools. Federal programs like the ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOL EMERGENCY RELIEF FUND II – CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE AND RELIEF SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2021 are available to address learning loss and preparing schools to reopen. Chess in education programs and training teachers in CIE teaching methods should qualify and benefit from this federal stimulus legislation.

4) Increased Cooperation between Countries in Support of Chess

International cooperation on Chess in Education will grow, including US engagement. In 2020, leaders from the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and the European Chess Union (ECU) created a Survey Group tasked with creating and implementing a world-wide survey of federations, chess in schools organizations (CiSO’s), and public or private schools. The group’s report, scheduled for early in 2021, will provide an overview of the current state of chess in schools and, based on the data collected, provide suggestions for future programming by FIDE, national federations, and local CIE organizations.

5) New Growth Opportunities for CIE

For some CIE Coalition member, 2021 will mark a welcome return to normal activities. CIE Coalition members like First Move look forward to a return a restored in a restored interest by new customers. It will be a chance to build upon 2020’s burgeoning interest in chess. For some CIE Coalition members like Chess in Schools, 2021 will unlock new opportunities to introduce schools to the remarkable potential of teacher-drive Chess in Education. CIE certification will start to take root in the United States.

The key to CIE success in 2021 rests with educators willing to embrace innovation involving a 1300 year-old game.

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