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Armenia Makes Chess Compulsory In Schools 300

Hugh Pickens writes "AFP News reports that chess will become a required subject in primary schools in Armenia, where children from the age of six will learn chess as a separate subject on the curriculum for two hours a week. The lessons, which start later this year, will 'foster schoolchildren's intellectual development' and teach them to 'think flexibly and wisely', says Arman Aivazian, an official at the Ministry of Education. President Serzh Sarkisian, an enthusiastic supporter of the game, has committed around $1.5 million to the scheme in a move to turn the country of 3.2 million people into a global force in the games, says Aivazian. 'Teaching chess in schools will create a solid basis for the country to become a chess superpower.' Armenia's national team won gold at the biennial International Chess Olympiad in both 2006 and 2008, and the country's top player, Levon Aronian, is currently ranked number three in the world."
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Armenia Makes Chess Compulsory In Schools

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  • Brilliant! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bifurcati ( 699683 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:26AM (#35853052) Homepage
    Their president should be Knighted! :)

    Seriously, though, this is an intriguing way of fostering logical/analytical/creative thinking. I wonder if there is any peer reviewed literature on the impact of chess on children?

    • Re:Brilliant! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bifurcati ( 699683 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:34AM (#35853082) Homepage
      Replying to myself, some further [quadcitychess.com] googling [gardinerchess.com] [PDF] shows a number of studies that suggest a link between learning chess and improved performance. There does seem to be evidence that learning chess improves performance (although there also seems to be some studies that suffer from correlation/causation issues; without reviewing each study individually, I'm also suspicious that some studies might not have controlled for the fact that any intervention produces improvement, not just learning chess. But the devil is in the details, and there's a broad trend towards improvement).

      Looks like chess is already being taught in the Phillipines [blogspot.com] too?

      • Re:Brilliant! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by migla ( 1099771 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:44AM (#35853116)

        Yup. I'd be interested to know if maybe some Battle for Wesnoth or Nethack might produce some results too, especially considering some pupils might find playing those more enjoyable.

        (And there would of course be plenty of other examples aswell.)

        If I was the supreme principal of the land, I'd draw up goals regarding logic and whatnot that the chess-playing is desired to accomplish and have teachers and kids find the most suitable game for each. I don't think chess can be the best fit for everyone.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by migla ( 1099771 )

          >find the most suitable game for each kid.


        • Not just Nethack, but any roguelike without save scumming teaches some VERY important life lessons about decisions and forethought..
        • Ofc it would but it would be to simple.
          Chess requires you to memorize quite a lot of things.
          "Battle for Wesnoth" does not.
          Also the variation of things to do and the strategy how to do it is in "Battle for Wesnoth" much simpler than in chess.

          • I am not quite sure how to compare the two meaningfully, but Wesnoth is quite complex and hard to learn. As evidence look at the number of newbies who appear on the Wesnoth forums to complain about how hard it is, accuse the AI of cheating, etc.

            • I agree that Wesnoth is hard.

              But to play against an AI you don't need to learn about its intentions ... if you play against a human you need.

              Regarding Wesnoth: frankly I have no idea how to win it in the terms the develops or the forums suggest: you can win this map in X moves, sorry I need 3x or 4x the moves to do it. And I don't get what the point is.

              However that closes the circle, if you learn chess in school you have a teacher, if you play wesnoth, not.


          • by migla ( 1099771 )

            For some people Chess could simply be too hard, so maybe another game would be better suited. Not necessarily Wesnoth or Nethack, though.

            • The beauty of Chess is that the basics are not hard, they're incredibly easy to pick up - there are half a dozen pieces with their own moves to remember. The hard part is mastering the strategy, but there's no reason any kid can't pick up the basics in minutes.
        • Re:Brilliant! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @06:15AM (#35853654) Homepage Journal

          You're forgetting this is Armenia.
          A mass-produced chessboard with a set of pieces is like $0.30 imported in bulk from China.
          Getting a computer capable of running Battle for Wesnoth may be beyond capabilities of most schools, and even if they have a computer lab, it is likely occupied most of the time by IT classes, simply no time to occupy it for another 2h a week for each group. And funding another computer lab just for playing nethack...?

          • by vlm ( 69642 )

            A mass-produced chessboard with a set of pieces is like $0.30 imported in bulk from China.

            On a rainy vacation day I played a couple chess games using a single sheet of paper, and a pile of rocks. As you'll probably guess, the two lighter colored rocks with "B" markered on them are the white bishops, etc. Checkers and Go sets are even easier to make.

            Which is why this will NEVER be allowed in the USA... no way for the educational-industrial complex to make money.

            • Oh, come on. The right contractors can definitely project a computer-aided chessboard that will be at least $2k a piece.

        • Chess might be the game with the biggest body of "homework" though. In that case, studying chess would produce results not normally seen in other games without that study element. Also, it might be one of the top 10 board games with the longest shelf life in that at least people don't look at you funny like if you say you're a Chutes & Ladders champion. (Counter example for "mere intervetion and attention etc).

          Go could have worked, if say China wanted to do something, because it's about a country's heri

          • Studying Chess is in no way equivalent to studying Go. The study of Chess is about memorizing openings, endgames, game positions, and strategies; the study of Go is about understanding. Some people like to memorize as much Joseki as they can; but most professionals study and understand some Joseki, then abandon memorization of piles of Joseki and all 25,000 variations because they know how moves play out. More importantly, which josek, tesuji, etc to use depends on the whole board position, and (by exten

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Joce640k ( 829181 )

        The available data suggests that it turns you into a nation of vodka-drinkers who drive crappy cars and fight a lot.

      • I don't think chess has any real benefits except to pass time with a friend doing something fun. Learning chess trains spatial calculations constricted to game mechanics, as well as memorisation of movements.

        If you want to train the brain, I'd much rather see more music training in schools. Learning music teaches a lot more senses, i.e. rythm, tonal acuity, reading (notes), dexterity with an implement, memory.

        I'm probably missing a few things from both, but learning music I'd believe gives someone more br

        • It teaches prediction and creative thinking. You have a goal but your opponent has the same goal, the idea is to outwit him to achieve your goal. You don't do that following a set script of moves, you have to plan your strategy and anticipate his. Those are incredibly useful skills that can be applied anywhere outside the game. Music is also valuable, but music requires a teacher capable of producing music. Chess only requires a teacher with rudimentary knowledge of the rules (unless you're actually teachin
        • I believe you are sorely mistaken.

          Chess is an example of microcosm knowledge much closer to science than most games. You get a growing body of established theory, some of which is occasionally overturned, you get the study of tactical vs strategic styles and the weaknesses and strengths of both, you get logic trees as well as what happens when a terrible first move in the tree leads to "castles of absurdity" and more.

          Check out the process we needed to go to for teaching computers chess.

      • Replying to myself, some further googling

        Oh, this is about the game of chess?

        When I read the headline, I thought maybe Armenia was forcing all students to study the records of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Little Walter and Chuck Berry.

        Personally, as someone with a USCF rating of 1640, I think Armenia missed an opportunity.

      • Meanwhile any popular high school kid can tell you there's a correlation between chess and being the kind of unpopular nerd who'll likely die a virgin. So maybe that's the real plot there: they're trying to curb population growth ;)

    • I think they'r better off playin GO in schools, for fostering "logical/analytical/creative thinking". This seems to be aimed at fostering chessplayers.
      • Honestly, I think they should be teaching Math. Unlike Chess or Go (which I play) Math can be directly used in real life, and honestly most adults are incapable of using math in its most basic form (see Innumeracy [wikipedia.org])

        If you need to make students create some form of creative thinking make them understand probability and get them to try to apply it to understand real life problems (such as finding flaws in news articles).

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      in the western world there can't be such(study)..

      because a large number of kids actually do play chess occasionally against each other. and even in many other cultures there's similar games.

      but I can't help but wonder, what will they achieve by being a chess superpower? politics is much more complicated than a game of chess(ask kasparov...).

      • by X10 ( 186866 )

        They will achieve something bigger than being a chess superpower. They will have kids that have learned to think. To think really hard.

      • Politics is complicate, because you and I as a nerd are not able to see the motivation of people by looking into the face of people. So we basically take their word and even forget to think at home: wow what could be their motivation to say that?

        Chess OTOH is pretty clear on that: if the opponent has moved a piece. Ask yourself: what is the motivation? The obvious aim very likely is it not.

        You learn quite a lot in playing chess.


      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        I can't help but wonder, what will they achieve by being a chess superpower?

        Probably a heck of a lot more than being a soccer or american football superpower. Although greater than zero is not exactly a heroic achievement.

    • No idea but then I can think of worse subjects to be taught to children (think "intelligent design" and stuff like that which is pushed in some US schools). Chess is a game, a complex game, that does require analytical and logical thinking, and probably some creativity.

      What it has for total impact on their development? No idea. But this is something that I think won't hurt - assuming at least they're not overdoing it, and start pushing kids too much. On a related note, I have seen research that for elderl

    • Some of the most inept people I know are serious chess players. How many of them do you know? They spend all their time studying chess, when they could have spent their time learning something useful. Don't take my word for it, though, another man said it better 500 years ago:

      "[Chess] is certainly a pleasing and ingenious amusement, but it seems to have one defect, which is that it is possible to have too much knowledge of it, so that whoever would excel in the game must give a great deal of time to it,

  • by dogsbreath ( 730413 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:31AM (#35853074)

    Creationism is elevated to the status of scientific theory to be taught in schools.

    Hmmmm, boy those Armenians sure have their education priorities wrong.

    • by thephydes ( 727739 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @05:01AM (#35853378)
      Unfortunately your comment was labelled "Funny". "Sad but true" would have been more accurate. I can assure non-believers (in chess) that many of my best students in Math are also very good chess players. Correlation yes, causative maybe but the thinking processes seem to be similar.
      • I think that, when deciding to make something a compulsory subject, the correlation/causation issue is serious business.

        My experience with very smart, very motivated people is that they almost always have one or more cool hobbies at which they are pretty good. Sometimes ones that you would expect based on their primary subject area, sometimes rather surprising ones. If you take one of those hobbies and make it a compulsory class, though, the question of whether it will improve the outcomes of the selecti
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        I don't know, chess has a reputation of being the board game for the intelligentsia. If that were they case why are well known chess masters also not polymaths, CEOs, and world famous research scientists? Teaching children how to play chess will only improve their skills in one area - playing chess. It's a game you can even program a microchip to succeed at, which should be an indicator of the mental plumbing needed to achieve good results in chess. They might get better real world results by using somethin

        • I don't know, chess has a reputation of being the board game for the intelligentsia. If that were they case why are well known chess masters also not polymaths, CEOs, and world famous research scientists?

          Most likely for the same reason professional atheletes aren't usually CEOs in the health industry even though we know sports are a healthy activity - because being "professional" at anything requires a level of dedication and investment of time that generally rules out a full time career. That's not to say there aren't plenty of polymaths, CEOs and research scientists who don't bring a good game of chess to the board.

        • I disagree with you across the board (pun). Seriously, chess is a great tool for both tactical and strategic thinking... it does not have to be "an end unto itself". The fact that the most famous chess people have been obviously obsessive-compulsive should neither be surprising nor an indictment of chess as a narrow path to an intellectual dead end.

          Perhaps you believe that learning chess for people, not computers, is simply a process of learning a finite myriad of canned games and situations. You als

  • This is genius (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Riceballsan ( 816702 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:44AM (#35853114)
    For more reasons then one. First off it's roughly as valid if not more then say algebra and similar subjects when it comes to a career, algebra is specifically taught more or less as a subject that is useless in most lines of work on its own, but teaches the brain to think in ways it will need to. Secondly, it is a competitive activity. Why do Japanese students tend to do so much better then american students, simple they compete in mental subjects, the grades are posted on a giant board for everyone to see, and are ranked from smartest to dumbest. In america grades are confidential, we can't risk students self esteem getting hurt when they are made fun of for being dumb, so we have to hide that from them and allow only 1 subject where they will be mocked for being bad at Gym. Guess what subject our kids focus on and practice to avoid looking dumb in front of their friends, yup we pump out thousands of idiots who are hoping for the 1 in a billion shot at being a professional athlete. If we brought the same criticism to chess, I have a feeling we'd get many more future programmers etc due to their minds actually being trained. Worse case scenario, chess boxing would become the next big thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by syousef ( 465911 )

      Do you realise the irony in complaining that schools aren't competitive enough, while simultaneously complaining that people are competing to be that 1 in a billion athelete?

      We don't need competition. Competition tells you if you're not the best, you're a worthless loser. We don't need a hundred confident competitive giants and a million suicidal losers. What you need is to make the learning itself worthwhile.

      • Re:This is genius (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zaphod The 42nd ( 1205578 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @04:54AM (#35853348)
        His argument was that if you compete to be good at academia, then there are more potential jobs to take advantage of the skills you gain from competition, than there are jobs where we need people who are extremely good at athletics. There's no paradox or contradiction, and you're misusing the word irony.
        • Re:This is genius (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @05:18AM (#35853436) Homepage Journal

          Except if you are -very- competetive about athletics, you don't have time for properly learning all the rest (but being a promising athlete helps to pass).

          You're just barely getting by, and in the end you are not competent in your learned work field. You're extremely competetive though, so you do get to a higher (managemental) position than the nerds who didn't compete at sports and learned their job instead.

          And that's the image of your current corporate structure. Highly competetive, aggressive, and utterly incompetent jerks are the managers, meanwhile talented experts stay at the bottom, because not being very competetive doesn't fit the image of a "person deserving a success" for the managers, who, after all, fought tooth and nail for their positions.

          Yes, it's true there is a lot of jobs which are easier to get if you have all the competetive skills. It's easier to get a better-paying job that way. It's definitely profitable to the person in question. It's just utterly harmful to the whole system.

      • by am 2k ( 217885 )

        Competition is an integral part of (not only) human behavior, you can't discuss that away. The question is just, on what should the children focus on competing?

    • by Kokuyo ( 549451 )

      This is not well thought through...

      If making them compete would work, how is there the cliché of the nerd who gets pummelled at dodge-ball? How are there jocks if the existence of jocks, following your logic, would motivate the nerds to go pump iron, shoot some b-ball and get better at sports? It works the other way, too: If the existence of one super-math-genius would motivate the jocks to keep up, how exactly do you explain the stupid jock cliché?

      Yes, I know, they're clichés, but still... I

    • by pnot ( 96038 )

      Why do Japanese students tend to do so much better then american students, simple they compete in mental subjects, the grades are posted on a giant board for everyone to see, and are ranked from smartest to dumbest. In america grades are confidential, we can't risk students self esteem getting hurt when they are made fun of for being dumb

      That's one way to do it. But Finland gets even better results [time.com] using an absolute minimum of grading, streaming, ranking, testing, and public shaming of the "dumbest" -- with far fewer hours spent in school or private tuition to boot. And I dare say it results in happier, less stressed kids too. Of course I'm not saying that just throwing out the grading is sufficient to improve standards -- the linked article has a little more detail on the other important factors (well-trained, well-paid, respected teachers

    • . Why do Japanese students tend to do so much better then american students, simple they compete in mental subjects, the grades are posted on a giant board for everyone to see, and are ranked from smartest to dumbest.

      I don't know the last time you went to Japan was (if ever) but this is 100% not true. I should know, I work in a Japanese Jr High. The only incidence I can think of close to this is for the driving test and HS/ uni entrance results. However, they are posted with numbers not names. No one knows your number but you.

    • I disagree with, like, all of this. (a) Algebra at least teaches the notation/language of math (variables, operators, order of operations, etc.) such that someone can read and use formulas that are part of almost any discipline. (b) Confidential grade results are distinct from telling students what their class standing is -- you can do both, in each case, confidentially (as required by law), so that others don't use that information against them. (c) Acting like Gym is the "subject our kids focus on" is lud

    • Sure, algebra is useless - unless your job involves numbers at some point, and how likely is that?

      • If your job involves numbers at some point you are far more likely to need arithmetic than algebra. As far as I can see, most people can't do algebra and don't need to do algebra. Slashdot is not representative of the population as a whole.
    • which pretty much makes the idea of teaching Chess in schools a non starter. Chess has a winner. It also is not a team sport Back in the good old days only the nerds played chess or were on the Chess team; yeah I know I just said its not a team sport but names are meaningless.

      Perhaps battle chess would be a good way to introduce younger children to the game, something where its fun to watch as well play.

  • Good move (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Renderer of Evil ( 604742 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @03:47AM (#35853124) Homepage

    I studied 2 years of chess in Armenia, beginning from grade 4 in a 10 year secondary system. Of course, this was during Soviet times and you were allowed to choose from a range of subjects. It wasn't compulsory. My grades in other subjects improved dramatically as a result.

    Really glad this is happening.

    • I studied 2 years of chess in Armenia, beginning from grade 4 in a 10 year secondary system. Of course, this was during Soviet times and you were allowed to choose from a range of subjects. It wasn't compulsory. My grades in other subjects improved dramatically as a result.

      Really glad this is happening.

      In Soviet Armenia Chess Move You

    • It wasn't compulsory. My grades in other subjects improved dramatically as a result. ... Really glad this is happening. (emphasis mine)

      I have no doubt that chess is a very useful, as well as enjoyable, intellectual activity for students who enjoy it, but I strongly suspect that the main effect of making it compulsory for all students will be to create a generation who mostly regard it as "one of those boring things we had to do in school" and won't get any real value from it.

      • Aha! And this leads to the deeper truth: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Trying to find out which subjects are more important and then making those compulsory is the wrong attitude entirely; instead we need to better explain to children WHY they are learning these things, empower them to choose, and then everything else will follow.
  • Plotting, scheming. Next it'll be mandatory reading of Sun Tzu's Art of War, Animal Farm and 1984. Apple stores burnt to the ground. Halted sales of converse to Hipsters. Mandatory prison sentences for anyone using a laptop at Tzarbucks. These are the children of the future...

    • Lol ....

      Next it'll be mandatory reading of Sun Tzu's Art of War, Animal Farm and 1984.

      So this three are not mandatory readings in your country ... for god sake, what do you read? Mickey Mouse?


      Unfortunately in my country they are not only mandatory reading (except Sun Tzu's) in german, but *also* in the english class.

    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      When I played, I was pretty good. Infant school chess champion 1980!

      I got to a level where I needed to learn (memorise) all the opening moves and this is the point where it got boring. I felt it was akin to cheating - it stopped being about logic prowess and more about cramming. Boring.

      Learning chess is good up until a point. I hope they don't put the children off with the advanced boring stuff.
  • IBM's Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov at chess years ago. Teach the Armenian kids how to play Jeopardy!, and let them have a go at IBM's Watson Jeopardy! champ instead!

    Um, "What is, a silly idea . . . ?"

  • I think this decision will increase creativity in the students.
  • "Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time." -- George Bernard Shaw.
  • If you want to teach them how to think "flexibly and wisely," then just do that directly. Showering them with only slightly relevant subjects that should be optional (advanced math, chess, etc) is rather inefficient when it comes to the amount of time used. I guess it might be a fun way to teach the skills, but I'd say the skills should also be taught in a more direct manner with this being an exercise. I still completely disagree with the act of showering people with advanced math classes merely to "teach"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if the Armenian Government is afraid of producing more Kardashians.

  • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @04:52AM (#35853338)
    I for one welcome our chess playing overlords.
  • by SuperCharlie ( 1068072 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @04:55AM (#35853354)
    My dad taught me chess when I was around 10 and we played regularly until I was out of high school. In 11th-12th grade we played 2-3-4 hour games almost nightly. I eventually won more than I lost before I moved out.

    Of all the things, I think it taught me how to think many steps ahead on projects and tasks and improved my analytical thinking immeasurably.

    Kudos for Armenia on this..there is nothing bad about it.
  • by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @05:16AM (#35853426)

    American schools in the south have mandated that schools shall now teach Tiddlywinks in an effort to increase manual dexterity so as to reduce the likelihood of burger flipping injuries for future generations.
    The class shall follow directly after the new science curriculum, "7 days, the making of Earth".

  • The reason there are studies showing playing chess linked with all sorts of critical thinking, mathematical skill and other good traits is because the population they are pulling from would be playing video games or watching tv if not playing chess. By making chess mandatory in school, you're just taking time away from more traditional subjects of study.

  • Im an American public school graduate, so i cannot comment on how chess might be taught in other places around the world. I'd imagine that the most popular strategies for opening, mid and endgames would be rattled off like history facts or formulas out of a math textbook. The student would then be expected to regurgitate answers on a test. This certainly wouldnt provoke analytical thinking in people who are uninterested in the topic.

    If their plan is to create the next generation of chess grandmasters, th
    • by am 2k ( 217885 )

      You can kill every kind of thinking by teaching it the wrong way. For example, people here in my country manage to graduate school by memorizing mathematics. That's because nothing else is needed to solve any of the challenges given to them by the teacher.

      Then some of them move on to university. The ones choosing technical subjects get roflstomped in the mathematics lectures. They either discover that everything they thought they knew about maths was utterly wrong, or they fail. (I was in the former categor

      • just as i'd suppose anyone who excelled in these chess lectures would have their ass handed to them by a casual chess player who played the game because they enjoyed it.
  • whether i prefer a school where my child learns chess or a school where any teacher may indoctrinate my child with fucked up fairytales under the false flag of "we dont know for sure", i prefer the chess school.

    • I wouldn't ask you. You don't even know what "false flag" means. Let alone the fact that "we don't know for sure" is true about practically everything we need to learn. Evidently whatever school you used, like probably a home "school", didn't work.

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday April 18, 2011 @06:41AM (#35853788) Homepage

    If there's any game I would want required for students it would be: Poker. (I say this, having been weaned on chess as a kid, and having won a competition in high school.) The problem with chess is at least twofold, in that it has both (a) full information, and (b) no randomness, a bad model for real-world applications, which will not present themselves that way. I'd rather have people playing poker and dealing with (a) probability, (b) partial information, (c) logic and deduction, (d) psychology and reading people, (e) betting and expected values, etc.

    The last test I gave in a community college stats class had this question: "True or false: If I roll a fair die 36 times, a one will come up 6 times." Almost everyone in the class said "true". Afterward, I had one of my better students remark with surprise, "So it's not certain?" I'd love to not have to introduce the very idea of probability to students for the first time when they're sophomores in college.

    • by hey ( 83763 )

      Poker served the crew of the Enterprise well on more than one occasion.

    • True or false: If I roll a fair die 36 times

      Perhaps the problem lies in a misinterpretation of "fair" on their part.

    • Interesting. Poker has some seedier characteristics I don't think would fit well in schools--like how it encourages manipulation and gambling. It would improve probability skills, though. I'm sure if I had had to play poker regularly in school I would have computed various probabilities and maybe learned to count cards, since I'm both competitive and good at math. I can see myself learning/deriving basic combinatorics and probability in that case. I also might have learned to read people better, earlier.
  • Chess, and Go is 10x more important than 'jock' sports to education,

    Should be emulated in US and UK!

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"