Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Of Queens & Knights

Thanks to the generous string of Malaysian holidays, those of us working in Kuala Lumpur have the entire week off to celebrate the Chinese New Year, by just taking Friday off. I've spent the bulk of the days so far pretty much with the family, taking plenty of naps as well as spending catch up time with old friends.

It is a yearly affair for a group of us primary school classmates from Montfort Primary School in Batu Pahat to meet up for many hours during the afternoon and evenings to catch up. Many of them are very good friends til today, and more interestingly, many of them are former Asean scholars who were "fished" to Singapore either in Form 1, Form 4 or Form 6. But this post isn't about the brain drain issue or Singapore's success with the Asean scholarship.

This post is about Singapore's programme in cultivating its chess talents and what Malaysia could easily learn from the programme, not applicable just to just chess but also everything else with our education system.

Think of chess in schools, and you'd think of it as an extra-curricular activity in schools. Well, it was in Singapore too, more than a few years back. But today, it's a 'serious' activity for many Singapore schoolchildren. One of my friends, Alvin, who's a qualified Chartered Professional Accountant spends his time teaching at one of the polytechnics in Singapore (a choice of lifestyle and interest over income) makes a decent side income conducting tuition for chess to primary school students!

So chess has become a serious activity in Singapore. But how has that changed the chess landscape and standards in Singapore? Well, another friend of mine, TS, has just received his PhD from Imperial College in Aeronautical Engineering a year back and is now an assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University with their newly established School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Alvin had cheekily asked TS, who is an avid chess player as well, having played actively in competitions in Malaysia up to Form 5 and in Singapore during 'A' Levels, to take part in a particular "small" competition to "revive" his chess career.

Ah, TS took up the challenge and was surprised to see a heavy participation of primary school students in the Open competition. TS wouldn't be too pleased if I were to post his results in the competition here. But let's just say, much to his dismay, he found his chess career jumpstart cut short by a slew of Primary 3 and 4 students, some of whom were Alvin's students. That's 9 and 10 year old boys for you.

How is it that these 9 and 10 year olds are becoming top chess players so early? Well, apparently, many top primary schools in Singapore now conduct a 20-lesson chess class to all students as part of the syllabus. It's only a short programme, so students won't be burdened with chess as a subject. However, the 20 lessons will be sufficient to trigger students with the latent talent for chess to be interested in the game. It'll also provide an opportunity for the schools to immediately identify the top talents in the school to allow for better and more nurturing of these students to become world-beaters. The best thing about it is that it's such a simple programme to execute, and the results outstanding.

During the earlier days, Singapore's junior chess team may beat the Malaysian team by a margin of less than 10 points during the Singpore-Malaysia Chess Challenge. However, in the last Challenge held in December 2005, the U8 to U20 junior boys and girls from Singapore trashed the Malaysian counterparts 74-38. Although they lost as well, the Malaysian girls fared a little better than the boys. Any scoreline worse than that will make the challenge a little bit of a joke.

The Malaysian Chess Federation could learn a thing or two from the Singapore counterparts, but it'll only work if the officials at our Ministry of Education do not see chess as a game of our colonial masters or regard queens and knights as symbols contrary to the religious sensitivities of the Malaysian population.

For that matter, I think quite a few non-chess related activities and programmes could do with a dose of the Singapore experience in our education system.

1 comment:

clk said...

If religion sensitivities are the issue, chinese chess could be promoted but then racial sensitivities come in.

When will we ever progress if we get sensitive over the most trivial issues!