You are here

An Ancient Game Moves New Minds: Using Chess in Rural Indian Schools

By Emily Sholtis & Anna Nicotera, Basis Policy Research

While there are many origin stories for the game of chess, the earliest iteration of the game is attributed to India. Invented by a philosopher in the 6th century, Shaturanga, a predecessor to modern chess, was meant to capture the strategy and skill of the battlefield in a game. Fifteen hundred years later, chess continues to be used as a teaching tool the world over including in its native India.

In 2016, researchers conducted an analysis of this ancient game and its impact of the academic performance of rural Indian middle school students. It has been well documented that chess can have a positive impact on student performance. The game helps foster social ties, emotional maturity, problem solving skills, and critical thinking to name a few. However, very few of these analyses focus on older students or rural areas. This research in India offers insight into the potential for chess to be used as part of a rural curriculum by assessing the impact of chess instruction on the academic performance on 6th grade students.

The research team for this project is based out of Chennai, India and consisted of Ebenezer Joseph, part-time research scholar with Madras University, Veena Easvaradoss, a professor in the department of psychology at the Women’s Christian College, and N. Josiah Solomon, a professor in the department of statistics at Madras Christian College. The full article on their study was published in the Open Journal of Social Sciences.

The study used a sample of 100 sixth grade students from a single rural school in South Tamil Nadu which serves primarily low income students whose parents have limited education. The students were divided into two groups: a randomly selected control group and non-random experimental group of student interested in learning the game or chosen by the research team. Students in the experimental group received standardized chess instruction once a week for an entire year. Chess instruction consisted of a range of methods including: demonstrations, videos, chess theory lessons, tournaments, and game analysis.

At the end of the year’s instruction, the research team compared the academic performance of the two research groups across five subject areas: English, math, science, social studies, and Tamil (a local language). Their results showed that while both groups showed an improvement in academic performance over the year, the experimental group that received chess instruction showed higher gains than their peers in every subject area except Tamil. The researchers attribute these gains in part to gains in cognitive skills like those discussed in our March 24th blog post. These results are supported by similar findings in other chess studies like Roberto Trinchero’s study of Italian primary school students.

Chess is a versatile game with great potential beyond its role as a hobby. Integrating it into the curriculum for students provides opportunities for increased cognitive development and academic performance in children the world over.

For the full-text version of the article, click here.