Chess in Schools – the South African approach

Author: Juri Agafonov  Translated by Lauris Laimiņš and John Foley (CSC, Chess in Schools and Communities)


Chess and Education

The “Chess in Schools” movement is developing worldwide.  An interesting approach has been developed in South Africa by Marisa van der Merwe. Although South Africa is the most economically developed country in Africa and has huge reserves of natural resources  there are also severe social problems. Its population of 52 million people have an average annual per capita income of $12,000  (compared to Latvia - 2 million people and $21,000) with a very uneven distribution.  Unemployment is around 40%; one in seven of the population is illiterate and a third of working people earn less than $2 a day. There are high levels of crime and HIV infection reducing life expectancy to around 50 years. The schools experience difficult conditions - not all schools have access to electricity and the water supply and it is necessary to accommodate the 11 national languages.

Marisa uses chess as a way to introduce children to mathematics, science and life skills. This concept, which is branded as the MiniChess Program, is intended to make children “school ready”. It consists of a 4-year course for children from the ages of 5 to 9, starting with the simplest concepts and gradually, step-by-step , developing their knowledge and skills. Using chess problems and examples, children learn arithmetic as well as geometric notions of space and the shapes of objects. The programme improves concentration and ability to solve logical problems. Amongst the other improvements cited are literacy, planning skills, co-ordinate systems, and learning to comply with the rules of a game. Marisa claims that all this develops children's thinking and confidence in a fun way, preparing them for our rapidly changing world. The MiniChess Program consists of text books, teachers guides, workbooks and computer programs to support the learning process.

As of now there are no chess grandmasters in South Africa but 45,761 children were engaged in Marisa's programme in 2013! The World Junior (under 18 years old) World Chess Championship for 2014 will be held in South Africa which is likely to stimulate interest in the game further.


Related links:


Juri Agafonov,
yuri.agafonov (at)