How learning chess is helping SA kids with maths
We bewail Trends in International Maths and Science results which show South African children are lagging far behind their counterparts from other countries when it comes to performance in maths and science.
We know the causes; the long-lived implications of apartheid’s unequal education system.
Also, classes are too big, teachers feel overwhelmed coupled with the fear many children have that these subjects are just too hard for them to comprehend.
It is these challenges that the innovative Tsogo Sun Moves for Life MasterMoves programme addresses.
After realising its impact on around 35 000 children a week, its management team is determined to extend the benefits of the programme to more and more schoolchildren across the country.
To add to practical examples they have witnessed how chess enhances the process of maths understanding.
Moves for Life is also the subject of an academic design research study led by Dr Retha van Niekerk, of North West University.
Children from four schools in the Potchefstroom area benefit where the programme is run with them as the focus group.
TSMFL general manager Amanda Fourie, a former school teacher and principal who has always been involved in chess and so understands its power, joined Moves for Life in 2013.
For her the main aim of its MasterMoves programme is not to teach children how to play chess per se, but to show teachers how they can use chess creatively as a tool in teaching maths, science, language and life skills.
Of course, in the years since the programme's early days - as the Supreme Chess Trust by Kelvin Kemm, Afrika Msimang, Andile Mbeki and Mickey Scheepers, in five schools in Mamelodi - some chess players with the talent and interest to compete have emerged and gone on to play at a national level.
Major sponsorships from Sasol and Tsogo Sun alongside other sponsors in particular areas, have also helped Moves for Life grow.
Today its programmes reaches children in Grade RR to Grade 3 at 130 schools in seven of the nine provinces.
Marietjie Janse van Vuuren, another former teacher recruited to run the Sasol-sponsored programme and now Moves for Life's product manager, says chess develops much more than cognitive skills needed in maths and science.
It also develops life skills such as confidence and communication, she says.
MasterMoves Kids is an in-school programme designed to address the South African CAPS curriculum maths outcomes in the foundation phase.
It includes work with numbers, patterns, spaces and shapes, measurements and data.
"It turns maths, that is abstract, into something visual, using chess pieces and the board as tools."
Thus children see "that they need not be afraid of maths".
Van Rensburg said what excited her was to see the change in children who had experienced MasterMoves.
"If you give a class a worksheet, those who can do it will and those who can't will not be able to."
But by teaching children chess skills - not only analytical but skills such as tenacity and time-keeping - they tackle it differently, she said.
"We hear from the teachers amazing stories of children who have reconnected with parents, or those with concentration problems or who were failing, succeed because of this programme," she said.
More than 1 000 teachers have attended courses.
And facilitators visit schools to help them implement lesson plans which integrate chess tools across all disciplines of learning in a fun way.
The schools involved receive Geo toolboxes which have shapes, numbers, stickers, chess boards and pieces. The cherry on top is a giant chess set which has a variety of uses, and teachers get worksheets and e-learning aids.
MasterMoves Chess is an extra-curricular activity after school activity for Grades 4 upwards.
It encourages children to play chess as a hobby or become involved with it as a sport.
President Jacob Zuma, who is known for his support of chess as a problem-solving tool, is a patron of Moves for Life.
To extend the programme, Moves for Life is now seeking a fundraising specialist to be based in the Pretoria office. The advertisement has gone out and they are looking for someone with experience in the non-profit space. That individual should be able to develop a sales plan and build a donor base.
They are also reaching out to corporates, who may be willing to consider helping by "adopting" a school, or even a class, to benefit from MasterMoves with a sponsorship.
There is also the option for an entrepreneur to create their own development centre where the programme can be applied in a particular community.
Guidelines for the position at Moves for Life: Relevant qualification and more than six years' experience as a fundraiser; track-record in non-profit or donor funding environment, network; proposal writing and presentation skills, self-motivated, ability to travel.