IT’S EASY to overlook the achievements of Armenia: world class brandy, the duduk (a strange reed instrument) and the nursery of early Christianty.
But recently, the country has made the headlines, in the most inspiring manner.
Armenia is world class when it comes to chess and recently, the country has pumped nearly £1.5 million into compulsory chess education in schools. Even the president, Tony Bennett lookalike Serzh Sarkisian, is the president of the Chess Federation of Armenia.
Children under the age of six in the former Soviet country will learn how to play chess as a separate subject on the curriculum. Armenian education experts believe the game will “foster schoolchildren’s intellectual development”.
And the story’s now gripping this country.
In Birmingham, chess-fanatic Michael Perin runs a charity that teaches chess in more than 70 schools. The results are positive - teachers say that pupils are more sensitive to their peers and better-equipped to deal with decisions and strategic thinking. So why aren’t we taking note of our Armenian neighbours and making it part of the curriculum?
Because the brains behind our curriculum aren’t capable of creativity or imagination.
I taught art for a number of years and was baffled by the stagnation of the art curriculum - kids were still drawing pictures of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, like I was in 1997, and like my predecessors probably were in 1957.
But instead of introducing something a bit different and God forbid, exciting, we stick to what we know: boring constrictive tripe. Chess, on the other hand, invites initiative, creative thinking and quick decision-making - what else on the curriculum could possibly teach these skills in such an engaging manner?
I used to teach children with emotional and behavioural difficulties in inner-city Manchester. These were teenagers whose lives were defined by gangs, drugs and theft. They swore like troopers, fought and shouted at each other on a daily basis. Few of them could read and few could control their tempers yet every day, as soon as the bell went for lunch, every single one of them would beg me to get the chess sets out (I was in charge of chess-playing). To see 20 children, whose lives outside of school are defined by social disharmony, playing chess tournaments and engaging in intellectual battles was absolutely wonderful and a testament to the power of this wonderful game.
It’s not just for egg heads, it’s a game that can shape our capabilities as human being. I’ve seen it happen.
Sod Van bloody Gogh, get the chess sets out!
Our British curriculum, creators should move over and let the Armenians take over, at least they have a bit of imagination. And bloody good brandy.