Wilkinson’s magnificent move

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Hopefully, the proposed Chess-in-Schools programme in Trinidad will become fully operational sometime this year.


After the Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Education and a FIFA representative last October, DR assumed that the way would be expeditiously cleared for implementing the plan.


And that by now, at least, a substantial part of the necessary infrastructure would be firmly in place. The fact is, however, that very little can be done before a number of facilitating steps are taken.


Among these is the need to have the programme’s syllabus approved by the Education Ministry’s Accreditation Council. Another is for participating teachers to be certified by the University Tertiary Education Institute.


DR can only wonder at the problems being experienced here and hope they would not take much longer to be resolved.


Meanwhile, according to T&TCA president Russell Smith, the search is on for a place to establish a much needed Chess Centre which, apart from a secretariat, would provide living quarters for the International Master who will be coming to teach the game to teachers.


At this pace, it is unlikely that the programme will ever reach a comparable level to that of Jamaica which has bolted ahead, over the last few years, with an estimated 15,000 students in more than 30 schools enjoying the game under the tutelage of full time professional coaches.


Unlike the plan being undertaken in Trinidad, the Jamaican operation is largely the result of the passion, commitment and love of the game of one exceptional organiser.


Ian Wilkinson, successful defence lawyer and president of the Jamaica Chess Federation, launched his Magnificent Chess Foundation some four years ago as an instrument for using the sport to build what he sees as “a nation of thinkers.”


“Chess,” he told the Jamaica Observer in an interview, “is about thinking, planning ahead, strategising, and it’s exciting; so everybody should learn to play chess.


“We at the Magnificent Chess Foundation are building a nation of thinkers in Jamaica, and we would like to extend it to the Caribbean because we realise this is the way forward to economic development and a great way of life for the Caribbean people.


“At the end of the day, life is about thinking. If you can’t think, you cannot progress. It’s as simple as that.”


Wilkinson’s passion for chess can be seen in the virtual shrine he has created to the historic mind game covering an entire floor above his Swallowfield Avenue law office in Kingston.


As the Observer tells it, Wilkinson’s belief that chess can change lives is shared by principals of many of the schools islandwide in which he has introduced the game and where the Magnificent Chess Foundation runs active programmes.


Since its Chess-in-Schools programme was launched in fact, the Foundation has received encouraging testimonials from many principals relating the positive influence it has had on the school population as a whole and the enhanced performance of individual students who now consistently play the game.


“It has improved the overall tone of the school by contributing to a more quiet environment, conducive to study and academic pursuits,” Helen Douglas, Principal of Richmond Park Preparatory, told Wilkinson.


“It has stimulated the minds of students to concentrate and think in a logical, reasoned manner, thereby contributing to improved performance in mathematics in particular.”


The programme at Ewarton Primary has reduced the number of accidents and incidents because the children “instead of running up and down and injuring themselves by falling, were playing chess.


“This was a revelation,” Wilkinson said, “because it was the first I heard that coming from a principal”.


This quiet explosion of chess across Jamaica will eventually reap benefits for the country; Wilkinson’s Magnificent Foundation has already placed the island way ahead of the rest of the Caribbean in his effort to “build a thinking nation.”


Also, the blossoming of the game is creating “a silent industry of chess professionals”—full time chess coaches who interface with youngsters through their own chess clubs, in schools as an extra-curricular activity or as a structured subject on the school curriculum.


Already Jamaica has produced one IM in Jomo Pittersen and some 15 players above the 2000 ELO rating. With Wilkinson’s magnificent move, the country is set to bolt even further ahead in this great mind game.