The reports of numerous studies conducted on the impact of chess as a learning aid, generally conclude that there are many positive benefits to be derived, and for this reason chess has been introduced in schools in countries such as Venezuela, Iceland, and Russia to improve the intellectual and social development of students. These conclusions have been backed up by educational research, with studies done in various locations around the United States and Canada, showing that chess results in increased scores on standardized tests for both reading and math.
In 2007 the NCF started its school and community chess program. Since then the program has grown to include over 25 schools at the primary level as well as a number of secondary schools and community groups. The Ministry of Education Human Resource Development and Labour is now a major supporter of the St. Lucia Schools Chess Program, and in September 2012 piloted a program along with the Rotary Club of St. Lucia where chess was introduced as a subject on the curriculum of primary schools in Education Districts I and II. In the academic year 2013- 2014 the number of districts was increased to four when schools in Districts IV and V joined the program.
The Rotary Club of St. Lucia is also an important stakeholder and finances the major part of the First Move program in the primary schools; this includes the provision of training materials such as chess sets, DVDs and players, clocks, and televisions where necessary. The Grand Masters Chess Club, a group that plays chess and promotes the game, and members of the NCF Chess Committee are other stakeholders dedicated to the development of the game. These committee members assist with all aspects of the NCF’s chess program.
In St. Lucia, the introduction of chess in schools is one of the programs geared very specifically at changing the attitude of students towards both academic achievement and personal growth and development. It is expected that through the introduction of chess in schools it will be possible to instill cognitive skills such as critical thinking and analysis, focusing, and visualizing, at a very early stage which will result in improved academic performance.
However, in addition to the educational benefits there are social benefits as well. In the schools, chess often serves as a bridge, bringing together children of different ages, races and genders in an activity they can all enjoy. Chess helps build individual friendships and also school spirit when children compete together as teams against other schools. Chess also teaches children about sportsmanship – how to win graciously and not give up when encountering defeat. For children with adjustment issues, there are many examples where chess has led to increased motivation, improved behavior, better self-image, and even improved attendance. Chess provides a positive social outlet, a wholesome recreational activity that can be easily learned and enjoyed at any age. Conflict resolution, anger management, and thinking before acting are all skills that will be instilled into a large segment of the population; skills that will contribute to the future development of a small developing country like St. Lucia.
The NCF and its copartners recognize the number of beneficial impacts associated with the Schools Chess Program and have been focusing their efforts towards expanding the program throughout St. Lucia. The goal is to eventually have a successful chess program in every primary school, and functioning chess clubs in all secondary schools and communities on island.