Chess takes the initiative
"The sport of chess is on the advance in Jamaica." That is the view of Ian Wilkinson, president of the Jamaica Chess federation. However, while the Federation is pleased with the current state of affairs, Wilkinson says that there are some key moves that are needed to sustain the momentum.
In particular, the federation's president recommends that chess become mandatory for students at the primary level, that ISSA become involved at the secondary level, and that the chess-in-schools initiative be cemented by government policy. Wilkinson said that he was encouraged by recent developments. "To have the prime minister, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, state publicly that he's on board with the programme and that he's going to establish a chess centre at the Seaward (Primary and Junior High) school in his constituency", beamed Wilkinson, "it's a good indication of what's to come because he's the leader of the country."
The prime minister made those comments at the launch of the Jamaica International Chess Festival last week. The chess centre will be at Seaward Primary and Junior High School in Olympic Gardens, which falls within his constituency of West Central St Andrew.
"There are schools that play chess and have a team, but to use chess as a means of social intervention, that might be a little new," Holness told The Gleaner. "There are people who are attempting it. We want to partner with them, we want to inject new resources, and we want to support the growth of the sport. So we plan to use the centre at Seaward, not just for the school, but to spread the playing of chess in the community."
According to Wilkinson, the next step is getting chess entrenched in the school system. "We need to get chess arguably mandatory in all schools," he proposed, "especially early-childhood institutions - from primary, prep, what we used to call all-age, come right up."
He said that the Government, through the Ministry of Education, has already asked schools to facilitate chess and to "introduce the programme, subject to their resources". However, his further recommendation is clear. "It would have more far-reaching effect if the government adopted it as a government policy and have the Cabinet institute it," he added.
"Ideally," he theorised, "I would like to see an ISSA coming on board."
As evidence of growth, he observed that fact of 50,000 players coming to chess in the last decade, but appealed for support. He noted that a far larger number of schools contest the ISSA-FLOW Manning Cup and DaCosta Cup football tournaments than those who play chess. "We would like to see, as a matter of course, 100 (or) 200 schools doing chess competitively, starting from the entry level."
Twenty-five schools played the most recent all-island chess championships. By comparison, almost 90 schools started this year's DaCosta Cup, with 42 bidding for the Manning Cup.
The Chess Federation president believes that Jamaica will benefit from the spread of critical thinking that chess promotes, but is asking for help. "We can't do it alone," Wilkinson beseeched, "and we need significant support."