Go players rise to the challenge

By Lin Shujuan in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-07 07:34
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Two boys attend a course at BestGo, a training institute for the game in Shanghai. CHINA DAILY

Challenges to tackle

But although the game's profile has grown significantly, insiders said the Go industry is still at a nascent stage.

One of the key challenges it has faced over the past decade is the lack of qualified teachers - it wasn't until 2016 that Go was offered as a major in universities nationwide. As a result, many academies today still hire players to become teachers.

But Shen said this is not a viable approach. "You cannot rely on a professional player to offer systematic education for young beginners. Professionals normally don't have the time or patience for the task. Teaching Go requires not only the skills, but more important, the ability to communicate with young children. It's hard to find people who are qualified to do both," he said.

In view of this, BestGo recruits fresh graduates from universities before training them for the job.

To ensure the industry continues to experience steady growth, Shen said there must be a greater level of standardization in terms of teaching methods and practices, otherwise inconsistencies might deter students from learning the game beyond the introductory stages.

"Go is easy to pick up but it takes years to master. It usually takes at least two years for a beginner to become an enthusiast who relishes the joy of the thinking critically when playing the game," Shen said.

"But many students quit before they reach that stage, partly because Go, much like music or painting, is not compulsory for their extracurricular education."

"Based on our observations, only those who have achieved amateur-level playing skills will go on to play the game for the rest of their lives," he added.

"This is why we're now trying our best to improve a student's skill level before he or she becomes a second-grader, which is around the time most students have to choose to stay with the game or quit."

Despite the challenges, insiders are optimistic about Go's development.

Lin Jianchao, chairman of the Chinese Go Association, has said on many occasions that the game in the country has reached "another historic peak".

Leading educational institutions have also jumped on the bandwagon. In recent years, Tsinghua, Peking and Fudan universities have offered preferential policies to recruit skilled Go players.

Shen believes the popularity of Go will continue to rise because of the nature of the game.

"I always compare Go to a marathon - it is challenging, but once you come to appreciate its charm, you'll be addicted," he said.

Chen, Zhu Ruitian's mother, can attest to this, too. She said her daughter has never complained during the three years she has taken Go classes.

"These days, she voluntarily plays the game as a welcome break from her school work. It is as if Go has a magical appeal to her, and that is great news," Chen said.

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