Opinion: Can chess rescue Australia’s education system?

According to the results from the OECD Performance Information for International Student Assessment, the academic results of Australian school students across mathematics, English and science has been in relative decline to our international peers since the year 2000.
Moreover, Australia possesses one of the largest gaps within the OECD regarding academic achievement between our highest and lowest performing students.
From an education perspective, these worrying trends should be a concern for all Australians. They also have long-term implications for the Australian economy.
The effectiveness of Australia’s education system and whether it best meets the requirements of a 21st century economy that is more globalised, places greater emphasis on knowledge, is more high tech and is more complex is an issue that needs to be at the centre of the national policy debate.
Governments across the world are considering interesting interventions into their educational systems and societies that give their students and their economies a sustainable competitive economic advantage against rival nations over the long term.
During this century, sustainable competitive economic advantage will be defined not only by the attainment of knowledge or technical skills, but more by analytical and cognitive intellectual capacity that can solve complex industrial problems and process greater levels of detailed information.
Within this context, governments have turned to investigating whether chess can deliver benefits to children both academically and behaviourally, with some governments already taking action (e.g. the European Parliament, in 2011, called on all member states to introduce chess into their schooling systems).
A growing body of international research over the past four decades indicates that chess can be used as a tool to lift academic performance in maths and reading as well as improve student concentration and engagement with learning.
Given the growing international interest in chess and the worrying trends present in Australia’s education system, I recently announced that I was launching an Australian research project investigating the public policy benefits of chess across a suite of public policy fields with a primary emphasis on education.
It is logical that Australia, given international developments, should also be investigating whether chess can deliver public policy benefits to Australians given our existing challenges.
The research project will draw on both existing Australian and international chess related evidence that will produce a series of findings and recommendations for federal and state policy makers to consider.
The final research report is due in 2016.
John Adams is the current Government Relations Director at the Australian Chess Federation and can be directly contacted by e-mail at [email protected].