|Catalysing positive change which impacts Soweto youth’s lives by using chess to teach science, maths and life skills, saw a graduate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) being recognised for his Community Engagement (CE) endeavours.|
Chris Seoka, an Information Technology graduate and qualified programmer, harnessed an educational chess-based programme for young children to develop the fundamental cognitive aspects of a child’s capacity to understand basic maths, science and life skill concepts. Mr Seoka, the University’s recipient of the 2014 Best Community Engagement Student Structure Recognition Awards (CERA), partnered with Leratong Primary School in Soweto to aid the overall development of learners. “The programme impacts all learners in the class, not just the talented players,” explains Mr Seoka, one of the founding members of UJ Chess Masters. “The learning process of the chess playing initiative is not only in line with the skills level of the young child at that specific age but it also builds confidence while keeping it fun. The programme also aids with discipline; problem solving skills; sociological and psychological problems,” said Mr Seoka, who also works with the Slovo Centre of Excellence’s aftercare programme teaching chess.
Ms Ernestine Meyer-Adams, Manager of the University’s CE Unit pointed out that through UJ’s Community Engagement (CE) Student Volunteer Champion programme, students are equipped with tools, skills and access to resources that will enable them to understand the role they play as change agents.
Mr Seoka explains how he became a CE student volunteer.
Did you play chess while growing up?
I didn’t even know about chess until I enrolled at UJ in 2013. I’d see people playing chess, but I was only familiar with the basic moves.
How did the Chess Masters project start?
With the support of the University’s Sports Administrator, the Chess Masters, a UJ Chess Society project, was started in 2013. UJ’s Community Engagement introduced us to the concept of community engagement. I was intrigued by the idea of using a leisure activity to improve the lives of my community. We registered with CE and presented our project to them only to find out that we were to be crowned the CE project Champion of the Year. We launched the project to teach how to play chess, because we wanted to do something new that would also add value. We also wanted to address stereotypes. I wanted to highlight that the game of chess appeals to all race groups, ages and intellectual capacities.
How did it work?
We visited communities twice a week between. We had to balance effectively. We met learners immediately after school on Tuesday and Friday afternoon. Some learners were not even aware of chess. However, there were a few learners that were familiar with the game of chess, played by a character in Generations (Kenneth Mashaba), a popular South African television soapie.
Any future prospects?
I’m passionate about giving back to society. As a CE Student Volunteer I was inspired to do more. To this end, I would like to embark on an NPO that answers to the call of the United Nations (Millennium Development Goals) MDGs. The eight MDGs range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education. I want this project to have longevity. I believe our generation can make a difference and add value and a smile every day. Chess is a sport that can provide exposure for the kids by them going overseas to play tournaments and learn about other cultures and what other people are doing out there.