A few weeks ago, we published an article about the Schack4an project in Sweden. Here is the follow-up about their schack i skolan project.
In 2009 the Swedish chess federation started a trial project for Chess in Schools in the town of Lund. The goal was to find a way to take care of the interest for chess that was born out of the nationwide school tournament “Schack4an” (Chess4).
Chess in the Schools – Sweden
by Jesper Hall
Who am I?
My name is Jesper Hall and I am employed to work with Schack i Skolan (Chess in the Schools) by the Swedish Chess Federation (SCF) for a year and a half now. My background is that of a theatre director and project leader of cultural festivals and events. As a player, I became an International Master, with 2501 Elo and two grandmaster norms, but I quit playing eleven years ago, to focus on chess training at all levels. I have written ten books on chess, mainly in Swedish. In 2011 I gained the title of FIDE Senior Trainer.
Why do I write this?
During the past year, I have tried to build up contacts with countries which are running Chess in the Schools projects, and with people who are as interested as I am in pedagogy and chess. I have found that a lot of people have come to the same conclusions as me, in many cases based on experience. The process of gaining this experience is long, so why not share? Imagine that every country, that has tried to get chess into school, wrote their story, what problems they faced, and how they dealt with them. Then we would not have to invent the wheel more than once.
In 2009 the Swedish chess federation started a trial project for Chess in Schools in the town of Lund. The goal was to find a way to take care of the interest for chess that was born out of the nationwide school tournament “Schack4an” (Chess4). The first pilot was successful and the concept that had been shaped was spread to six new areas. At the turn of the year 2010/11, 74 schools had started chess clubs and 164 pedagogues had been educated in chess instruction. In future, the SCF calculates that 60 new schools will be added each year.
The Swedish school system
In Sweden, children start school at the age of 6, with a preparatory year. At the age of seven, they start grade 1. Children go to school 08.30 – 13.30. Between 13.30 – 17.00 there is an “afterschool” programme. All of that is free of charge.
Swedish schools are structured in four stages. Grade 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and the grammar-school. All children are obliged to go to school up to grade 9. At the age of ten the children start grade 4, and the “afterschool” is no longer free of charge, so a lot of kids go home or to other activities instead.
In Sweden we have a long tradition of sports and social activities for children in the afternoons and evenings. These have been supported by the state in a variety of ways such that all children can afford to participate.
In Sweden a school “year” runs 15 August – 15 June.
“Schack4an” is one of the largest chess tournaments in the world. 24,000 kids (25% of all ten-year-olds in Sweden) learn to play chess through the concept, and 12,200 kids participate in the competitions. The goal for“Schack4an” is to create a group of the class that is participating, and to show that even the weakest link in the chain is important. The reason for the great success of this project is that the SCF sells the tournament as a SOCIAL PROJECT. The goal is NOT to turn the kids into chess players, BUT to give them, their parents and the teachers a positive attitude towards the game.
The positive social effect springs from giving points to everyone who participates. A win gives 3 points to the class, a draw 2 points and a loss 1 point. Even someone who loses all their games makes a valuable contribution to the overall score of the class! So, the more members of a class who take part, the better. (There is a coefficient – system that is used to balance different class sizes.)
A year of Schack4an works like this: In August, the SCF sends out an application form to almost all teachers of grade 4 in Sweden. If the class decides to take part in the first step, an instructor comes to the class during the autumn for one hour and teaches the children to play chess. The class gets five chess sets and some basic instruction material, all for free. If the class chooses to join the second step, they participate in the qualification of the town. Normally 15 out of 30 in the class will come. These kids are most often the “strong” ones, good in school, chosen first in sports and so on. But during the tournament the kids realize that if they are going to make it to the final they need to inspire the other half of their classmates. (It is important that more-or-less all classes qualify to the next stage of district qualification). The “strong” kids go back to their class and start to teach the “weak” ones and explain to them that “you are important for our success”. This is a dream for a teacher!
In the district qualification, 23 kids out of 30 participate on average, and in the final, 28 out of 30.
If the driving force to participate for the teachers is to strengthen the group, the children participate to be able to go to Stockholm and the most famous building in Sweden: The Ericsson Globe Arena, where the final is held. In 2011, 2,500 kids were playing at the same time in the final on 21May!
The tournament is financed by state support, as every kid that chooses to participate in the tournament pays 4 Euros to become a member of the SCF (To motivate the children to pay for the membership, they get a sausage and a drink during the S4an tournament for the same amount so the SCF can not count the 4 Euros as income.). The federation gets money from the state depending on how many members it has, besides how many clubs it has. Each member is today worth 12 Euro. (12,200 kids means 12,200 x 12 = 146,400 Euro). In addition to this support on a national level, some of the districts receive money from the district council.
(You can find the complete rules at www.schackfyran.se)
What comes after Schack4an?
In 2006, the SCF employed Per Hultin to become project leader of Schack4an. At that point the tournament had 3,000 participants and about 6,000 kids learning chess. In 2007, I became Chairman of the Schack4an committee. The organization had already begun to grow thanks to the work of Per Hultin, and my job was to support him in any way I could.
One of the main issues that Hultin and I discussed was how to take care of the interest that Schack4an creates. This issue grew in importance as I started to receive calls and mail from teachers, principals and parents who praised chess. A typical quote would be: “Schack4an is a social project, but chess trains the children’s ability to concentrate, and most important, chess has created a great environment as everyone can participate!”
Our problem was that we were overloaded with work as Schack4an grew. But in the spring of 2009 I started with phase 1, as described below, and then, in the autumn, phase 2. I simply started chess at my children’s school, and tested my ideas on the teachers. The feedback I got made me realise that there were many things I needed to fix, to make the project successful. Soon I was working 30 hours per week, without payment, and the situation became unbearable. I went to the SCF and told them that either we stop here or someone must be employed to work on the project. Since February 2010 I am employed, focusing on Chess in the Schools. During the spring of 2010, the project entered phase 3 in Lund, with three new schools starting chess. In addition, I was preparing test projects for six new areas in Sweden. That autumn (2010), 164 teachers were trained to teach chess, and 74 schools were a part of our Chess in Schools project, of which I was directly involved with 52.
This spring, about 30 new schools have started with chess, and about 100 more teachers have been taught how to instruct chess.
Phase 1 - Analysis
In spring 2009 I started to analyze how to organize more regular chess activities in the schools in Sweden. For a long time the most problematic thing has been how to get new Chess Leaders for beginners in chess (the use of the term “Chess Leader” is explained at the end of the article). Our main targets have been chess players and chess parents. My first idea was this:
“It is easier to teach a pedagogue chess, than a chess player pedagogy.”
This idea is born out of my experiences that in the beginning, in younger years, the most important thing for a chess instructor is to create a good environment for the kids, where they are allowed to fail and where the moment of competition is in the background.
The next, and most important thing, was to analyze what economic possibilities there were to finance a project. I saw the following:
- The schools pay for the service
- The parents of the kids pay for the service
- I try to get money from foundations, town councils and so on.
- I try to create a system that make use of state support
To get a grip on the possibilities, I involved the principal and the teachers of my children’s school. Beside this I had contact with experienced Chess Leaders. All the ideas and questions that arose, I tested on these two groups.
Both Norway and Denmark were also grappling with the same problems as in Sweden. The Scandinavian countries have very good relations and we started to share ideas in meetings and by e-mail correspondence.
My conclusions were:
- If I wanted to charge the schools for the service, a lot of them would not join the project as the budgets for Swedish schools are very tight. Maybe in a later phase, when the project can show good results, it might be possible to charge the schools.
- To charge the parents is not possible as it is teachers who will be instructing the kids. Most schools in Sweden do not allow charges at school or for “after school” activities.
- To get money from foundations or town councils is difficult when you start from scratch as you have nothing to show. First you need a good example.
- The best chance was to base the economics on state support.
When I started to analyze the possibilities of state support, I realized that in Sweden we have two types of organization; traditional clubs with a focus on the activity, and new ones which focus on getting the maximum possible support.
The traditional organizations have their activities and then look for support to match that. The new ones first analyze how to structure themselves to receive the most possible money, and then they start the organization. This is, in my opinion, a bit shocking, as many of these new organizations are more or less bluff. The traditional organizations have therefore tried to lobby the state to change the rules. But the answer the traditional clubs gets is: “You must change your organization.”
In Sweden the SCF gets money for each member and for each club from the state. Each club got about 700 Euros plus 12 Euros for each member in 2010. So, a club with 30 members would make 700 + 30 x 12 = 1,060 Euros per year.
In the beginning I tried different set-ups, like making all the 800 classes that are part of Schack4an in to chess clubs, but the resistance I received from the Chess Leaders was strong, as this would mean that more or less all clubs would quit, and new ones start, every year. Apart from being wrong from a moral point of view, such a system would cause heavy administrative headaches.
Instead I shaped a concept that each school should start a chess club. Then the club could continue year after year, even though the members might change.
Phase 2 – Preparation
First of all I understood that if I, as a chess player, came to a school and offered them chess as a pedagogic tool they would not listen. Therefore I gathered a reference group, including the best chess pedagogues in Sweden, as well as four professors of pedagogy, didactics, mathematics and equality of opportunity. All of them believe that chess is good for children’s development. This reference group would guide the project, guarantee quality and regularly evaluate progress.
The next step was to look at the research done on the subject of chess in schools. Together with Lars Pilö, Norway, I gathered all I could find on the Internet and in the academic world, and handled it over to Lars Holmstrand, Professor of Education at Linnaeus University, who read it and wrote a summary.
With the reference group and the summary, I had made the project interesting from the school’s point of view, something that opened the doors to the principals and other key persons.
Phase 3 – Pilot Project
In autumn 2009 I started a pilot at my daughter’s school. I realized that I first needed to teach the kids myself to understand the circumstances under which the teachers worked. The school supported me with one teaching assistant who shadowed me, with the idea that he would take over the instruction the year after. He could also give me feedback on all different kinds of matters. The first thing I realized was that the size of the group was far bigger than the ones in traditional clubs, and that the kids’ motivation was lower than that of the kids actively choosing chess.
Therefore I needed a new type of instruction material, especially designed for teachers with little knowledge of chess. I started to test materials from all over the world, but I did not find any that was good enough. Either the materials were directed at chess players, or the pedagogic style was not modern enough for the school of today. I realized that I had to create my own new instruction material.
Soon three more schools became interested and I arranged a course for 14 educators the same autumn. From all sides, kids, teachers, principals, and parents I got positive response, but the test project was taking up about 30 hours per week of my time, and I realized that it was time for the SCF to decide if the project should be supported. I had previously received a smaller amount of money from The Academy of Chess, a Swedish organization which tries to find money for chess in Sweden.
The federation decided to advertise for a national instructor, tasked to develop the project and spread it to new areas. In February 2010 I was given an 18-month contract. An economic calculation was made, and I had to start 35 new chess clubs in my first year to ensure that the SCF would get its money back in four years.
In Sweden the school year runs from 15 August to 15 June. Spring 2010 was booked for preparations, to make each brick ready before August. I had to:
- Decide what new areas to go for.
- Build up a network of good people in each area ready to support the project.
- Make an offer to the schools.
- Start to sell the project to schools in the area.
- Sell the project to key-persons in each area, like politicians and civil servants.
- Finish the instruction material.
- Try to find new sources of financial support.
The areas to go for were chosen from those where Schack4an was strong and successful. Six areas: Lund, Halland, Västmanland, Huddinge, Jämtland and Norrtälje.
The offer to the schools was as follows:
The school would get:
- 20 chess sets
- 1 demonstration board
- 2 half-day courses
- Instruction material, including 18 complete lessons and pedagogic tools.
- A mentor who would come and help them on two occasions, and who could support them in all other matters.
The school’s obligation:
- To start a chess club, with at least 3 people willing to act as Board Members.
- To get at least 5 members under 26 years old.
(These are the criteria for an organization that the SCF would receive money for from the state.)
I had a contact on the regional council in Halland, a district in Sweden. I sketched a project for the schools in the region, to establish chess as an educational tool. My idea was to have a meeting where the council would guide me how I should present a project for their kind of organization in the future. But the region found it so interesting that they decided to give us 21,000 Euros for a test project already the next day! So in Halland it was possible to get a person employed for 60% of the year. Therefore Halland also became our district where we would do our research and make our evaluations.
In all the areas, my contacts picked out 20 schools that should be contacted. All in all, 120 schools in the six areas. We started in March/April by calling the principal at each school to sell them the project. Everyone was interested! After the call, we sent out a presentation, including the research summary.
Phase 4 – Establishment
In each area I held a course for three hours. If it was teachers who were our main target, we had the course between 15.00 – 18.00. If it was afterschool-pedagogues, the courses were held between 08.30 – 11.30. The different target groups have different times during the day when they can more easily make themselves free, without causing problems for the school.
The courses are very much down to earth. What the educators need is the feeling that this is not dangerous. It easy to teach chess! The point is, of course, that children want to play chess, so if they arrange for that they can have a lesson. As the teacher gets more experience, he or she can start with real instruction.
At the end of each course, each school represented got a ring binder with all the material they needed for the term, including 18 lessons. The good thing about a ring binder is that the school can easily copy all the leaflets with tasks inside, and give them out to the pupils. Each single participant got a copy of the book Schackma Gandhi får en idé - that is the book used in the classroom.
The 20 chess sets and the rest of the package, the schools got when everything was in place with the registration of the club. This is more or less always done at the first training-session for the club, when the mentor comes to the school. The mentors bring all of the stuff with them when he or she gives the first lesson, and after that lesson the mentor goes through all the paperwork, making sure that it is all correctly signed, so that the club can be registered.
All in all, 164 Chess Leaders were trained during autumn 2010. Interestingly, 100 of them are women, a category of Chess Leader that we really need.
At the end of the first term, we made an evaluation of the new clubs in Halland, and of the Chess Leaders. This evaluation was led by Lars Holmstrand, a professor of education. This evaluation showed that 100% of the educators saw positive social effects of the chess training. “Good for the group, as everyone can join”, “The children play in new constellations”, “The group is calmer, as the children need to concentrate” were typical quotes. 81% of the teacherss saw positive intellectual effects. 23% of the children have been stronger in all subjects, 58% specifically in mathematics. This evaluation, led by a professor, was very important for the next step. Now we had proof that the project was good.
For the next term it was important to keep the schools that had started. The strategy for this was to create a website, a newsletter that comes out 6 times a year (to encourage the mentors to have regular contact), and to give every school a present (The Fritz and Felix CD, known in most countries as Fritz and Chesster) at the end of the term, with a personal letter from the Chairman of the SCF.
Of course, we also wanted more schools to start in the test areas. As more or less all the schools that participated so far were happy, word of the good effects spread to other schools in the area. When the project started, I had contacted the person in charge of all the schools in Lund. Now I could come back and she let me come to the conference that all principals of the schools have in Lund twice a year, so that I could make a presentation for 20 minutes. After my presentation, the principals from the schools that have had chess stood up and told the others that they could really recommend it. After that, 7 new schools in Lund wanted to start with chess.
I have tried to get in to these kinds of meetings of principals in all the test-areas.
It was also now very important to reach the schools through their channels. All the specialized magazines of education, mathematics and so on were contacted.
We also sent mail to all politicians in the areas, to inform them about the project. The strategy is to make the project known to everyone. Therefore the media was also contacted.
Phase 5 – Extension
This is where the project stands right now in Sweden. This autumn, four new areas will be added. The idea is also that Chess in the schools in Sweden shall be part of FIDE’s CIS100 and Student Membership project.
The strategy of the SCF is that everything in Chess in the Schools should be of the highest quality - the instructional material, the courses, the leaflets, cooperation with professors, evaluations and so on. Quality will win in the long run.
The problem is, of course, money. High ambitions cost, and the balance between quality and quantity is therefore not easy. The federation also needs more income to guarantee that quality in the future.
The danger in the system used today in Sweden, with state support, is that you do not know whether the state will change the rules or not. We are vulnerable. Therefore we need to find other sources of income. Probably we have to go for all the possible ones mentioned earlier on.
Chess Leaders – more than just terminology
Six years ago I wrote a book "Schackledarens handbook" (The Chess Leaders Handbook) that was aimed at all the chess trainers and organizers in Sweden. Working on the book, I realized that it was very important to make a distinction between Trainer and Leader. If you are going to get new trainers for beginners and want parents to take up the challenge, you can not call them trainers as they will think that they need to be good at chess, when the most important thing is to be good with the kids. By using the word "ledare", it was more likely that would consider starting with beginners training. In Swedish the word "ledare" means more the one taking care of practical matters, and does not stress so much knowledge of the specific subject, in this case chess.