School Chess to Expand in Russia

Komsomoltskaya Pravda has recently reported on the introduction of chess as a subject in all Russian primary schools. Children from Grade 1 through 4 will have a weekly chess lesson. We have tried to verify what is actually the case. 

Russia’s Minister of Education and Science, Olga Vassilyeva, had previously announced her intention to make chess mandatory in 2017. She explained that chess helps with children´s development. In support of the policy she suggested that chess could drive up academic performance up by as much as 35 per cent. The source of this statistic is not quoted but we are aware that there are circumstances where chess can make a significant impact especially to children who lack a rich learning environment for family or economic reasons.

The introduction of chess helps to solve a problem within the management of school sports. A few years ago the level of sports in schools was expanded to three lessons a week. The policy has not worked out as planned due to a lack of facilities and physical education teachers. Furthermore, some parents consider extra sports lessons excessive. Now, primary schools are permitted to replace one sports lesson with chess. 

Chess is already present in thousands of Russian primary schools. However, it has yet to be seen how many extra schools will take up this opportunity in the new school year. Alexander Kostyev, the veteran school chess activist and a Professor at Moscow State Social University explains the decision whether to introduce chess depends upon the schools – they will need qualified chess instructors to offer lessons. Furthermore, chess lessons may be subject to the consent of parents. Professor Kostyev confirms that the teacher training programme for chess is running at full tilt. He doubts the newspaper claim that chess is being taught in half of all Russian primary schools. There are no official figures published on the penetration of chess in schools.

Pilots for teaching chess in several Russian regions have been sponsored by the Timchenko Foundation  which has recently been voted as Russia’s most influential foundation. Its founder Gennady Timchenko is also behind the Chess in Museums initiative that brought major chess tournaments to the Louvre, the Tretyakov Gallery and other art institutions, and the Geneva-based Neva Foundation which has also been sponsoring school chess. 

The chess textbooks used in many Russian schools were devised by International Master Vladimir Barsky (photo), an experienced chess writer. Published by the Vaco School Publishing House, there are separate editions for primary and secondary schools. The textbooks provide a solid knowledge of chess basics using a tried-and-tested approach. The material focuses on orthodox chess eschewing the modern trend towards instructive minigames and transversal chess in other subjects. The attractively illustrated textbooks are moderately priced at roughly €6 for 100 pages and are supplemented by exercise books. 

We will bring you up to date on the situation in Russia at our next London Chess Conference.