14 June 2018

Little Bricks in the Wall of Education

Eteri Kublashvili follows up on the progress of Belaya Ladya 

Another Brick in the Wall is the title of perhaps the most famous musical trilogy of modern times, arguably second to The Unforgiven of Metallica only. In the album and the tour The Wall the musicians of Pink Floyd used audio-visual means to reflect the theme of social alienation of the main character, caused, among other things, by the educational system of that time. The most recalled part -- titled Another Brick in the Wall. Part II - carries that famous message “Teachers leave them kids alone”. 

However, the people I had a chance to communicate with on Belaya Ladya could not agree with the great musicians, believing that education (in our case it is rather chess education) is crucial for socialization of a person.  

In this report I feel like giving an opportunity to speak out to four representatives of foreign teams, first-comers to Belaya Ladya. Out of several rookies, I dare say so, I managed to get connected with coaches of Serbia, Germany, France and Kenya. 

The team of Serbia has been brought to Dagomys by Marija Lukic. She and her team find the event’s organization, atmosphere, and program to their liking - she even believes this tournament as one of the children's best in the world. 

- Dagomys is a remarkable and beautiful spot. This is our first time here in Russia and in Sochi, and we do like it here. In our free time we go swimming to the beach or pool, or analyze our games. We plan to visit the grandmasters’ master class in the evening.  

- Please, tell us about your school.

- We are from Belgrade, and our elementary school is excellent. A weekly chess class has become part of the main curriculum. However, those children of ours who have come here are just the beginners. They have been taking chess classes for two years only.   

- Does Serbia hold national children’s championships?

- The championship final is taking place after this tournament of yours. Serbia has launched the Chess in Schools program, and carries out various scholastic, municipal and regional competitions.  The national final usually numbers about 1000 players, but our team is made up of 6 players aged U15. That is, the national championship is slightly different from that of Belaya Ladya. 

Photo from Marija Lukic's archive

Photo from Marija Lukic's archive

Dr. Uwe Brem was there to tell us the state of things in Germany. 

- We come from Rothenburg, a town not far from Frankfurt.  Our school teaches chess as part of a large faculty program (Arbeitsgemeinschaft, in our language). The German team is a first-timer to Belaya Ladya. The German Chess Federation has distributed a special questionnaire among teams to sound out their willingness to participate in this tournament, and we applied on equal footing with other schools. Luck sided with us, and we were chosen to go here. It is not that we are such good players (laughing). We are happy to get this experience, because it is essential that we communicate with chess players from Russia and other countries, as well as adding to our overall understanding of chess.   

Our children enjoy playing chess. They have never stopped playing since the moment of coming here.   

- Have they attended Alexander Morozevich’s master classes?

- They have. Since the majority of listeners were Russians, the grandmaster spoke their language, but most of it was being translated. Modern openings was his subject, and it was interesting indeed. As I mentioned before, my players’ level is not so high, but it was instructive anyway.  

- What else are you up to here in your free time?

- There are so many other things we can do besides chess. The boys enjoy playing football and have participated in the competition, while the girl is especially keen on swimming and has taken to swimming in the sea. We have also visited the Olympic Park and are looking forward to going to the waterfalls. We have ideas of learning more about local agriculture, growing of tea and production of honey.  

- You seem to be having a good time here.

- Indeed (laughing). 

- I would like to wrap up by asking about school chess in Germany. Is it part of main curriculum in any parts of the country?

- It comes as extracurricular activity at the moment. However, it depends on a teacher in each particular institution. If a teacher is keen on chess, there will be no shortage of pupils, and vice versa. Germany schools used to be single shifted, and now they also have after lunch classes, which makes it possible to add chess into an after school daytime schedule. This is why chess has been gaining in popularity with children. 


The story of Daniel Baur of France is of particular interest.  

– Belaya Ladya is an extremely well-organized tournament! It is so wonderful that besides playing chess our children get a chance to communicate with peers from various countries. As a teacher, I consider communication a corner stone of everything.  

We come from French Guiana, the territory of which is covered with forests 90% and up. Therefore, it has taken us a few days to get adapted to the new environment, and now we find ourselves more and more involved in the overall program. One of the things we intend to do is take part in Oleg Pervakov’s master class in solving the studies.   

Our children are extremely happy to be here, this being an opportunity for them to travel and get in touch with others. By the way, three years ago our Federation team visited the Chess Museum in Moscow and played chess. 

- Please, tell us about your school.

- Our school is located in the heart of forests. There is nothing in terms of roads and cars. The only thing opening a window to the world is TV. I try to teach children everything I would otherwise teach them in Paris or Strasbourg, but it needs to be adapted to realities anyway. We try to travel someplace each year, because it is important that children explore the world. For example, in French Guiana we do not have lifts, and here they have seen this phenomenon for the first time. The traffic lights display a red and a green men - this is also a novelty. Our children, for example, are not aware that the red man means to stop.  

A tournament like this is of extreme importance. France uses chess as an additional support for the system of education. Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of National Education, does a lot to promote the "Chess in School" program. I can see the difference since my school has had this program for 12 years now. Chess is there to help children think, solve problems, and reshape the structure of the thinking process. This is the whole point of it. A competitive factor comes next to it.  

- How have you qualified for Belaya Ladya?

- This is a long story, but I will try to make it short (laughing). The French Chess Federation received an invitation to the tournament, and there was quite a crowd of those willing to go since Belaya Ladya has become widely known by now. As luck would have it, our national championship takes place in June, and all best teams of the Federation decided not to go here. I said I could dispatch the second best team to Dagomys, and here we are! Thus, France is a first-timer to Belaya Ladya. Of course, we will not win the tournament, but will show ourself to the best of our abilities. However, I think the main goal of Belaya Ladya is to unite children from all over the world, to make it so that children discover chess and themselves. If this goal is achieved, the world may become a better place to live in!  


The most exotic team, led by Michael Mutual, has arrived from Kenya. All in all, Africa makes its debut in Belaya Ladya, currently underway in Dagomys; therefore, this team is a point of keen interest: 

– It goes without saying that chess is not as popular in our country as running, athletics, football, and rugby. But now this sport has become promising, and has a potential for development if necessary and reasonable steps are taken.  

We represent St. Peter's School located in the city of Juja (about 20 minutes from Nairobi). Chess has caught on since five years ago. We run regional tournaments, the winners of which qualify for the national championship.  Here is our team after taking the championship cup. Having won the national championship, we received a letter from the Kenyan Chess Federation, which is part of FIDE, with an invitation to go to Belaya Ladya. This is of paramount importance to us. Should they invite us another time, we go without any hesitation whatsoever. Keeping in touch, exchanging ideas, and learning from others is essential because the world is gradually becoming global.  

The Chess in Schools program is also on the rise in Kenya. Thus, our school has about 1600 children, and more than a half goes in for chess. We consider this a big step in the progress of the game we love and want to develop. This can be done only by increasing the number of active chess players because it promotes competition and coming on stage of strong players.  

– Is chess taught in schools on a fee basis?

– In general, yes. With the economic situation in the country being so unstable, it comes as a challenge for many parents. My school is free -- I never charge anything for my lessons. I have opened the club and admit all children willing to study chess. I want to get as many children involved as possible since chess is of great benefit, especially to people engaged in intellectual types of labor. I would like to teach these skills to as many kids as possible.  

– What do you say about this event? Judging by the warm clothes, your children do not feel warm here in Sochi, do they?

– This is a wonderful experience. We like it here, and the event is finely organized. Local weather and even food are not something we are used to as we have never tasted some of the dishes on the menu (laughing). Nevertheless, this is a good way of exchanging cultural values: not even in terms of present, but in terms of future. Children grow up, and it is not impossible that someday the Russians will come to Kenya, or vice versa, meeting old friends made in earlier tournaments. 

However, I have a request to ask of organizers. Russia is known to be so strong in chess, as opposed to us, only making our first steps. Your methods of teaching are a lot more perfect than ours. We are keen on learning, but we need help. It would be nice , for example, if the next tournament is preceded by organizers giving us lessons via Skype, should we qualify for Belaya Ladya yet another time. We would be very grateful as such help is extremely important for us. 


Meanwhile, round five finished. The Moscow team offered no opposition to the Indian guests, going down with a 0:4 score. The Indian board one Gukesh takes each game very seriously, his eyes closed before the game and at its very beginning in a sort of meditation. Here are the reigning champions of Belaya Ladya leading the field again, 4 points ahead of the Sverdlovsk Oblast. They are followed by representatives of Romania, Mongolia and Nizhny Novgorod.  

In the afternoon, a three-time champion in chess composition Oleg Pervakov held an educational master class, and in the evening the young chess players were greeted by Evgeniy Najer and Alexander Morozevich. 

The additional program featured basketball, master class "A chess player's body", linguistic school, mathematical club, table games, drawing, mafia, historical quiz, film screening and even a lesson in the art of making tea.   

Separately, June 5 marked the end of the conference dedicated to the Universal Chess Education in Russia program, which brought together as many as 150 teachers from different regions.  

Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili, unless noted otherwise