Kumon

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Main Page - Educational approaches - Kumon
Main Page - Educational thinkers - Toru Kumon

Overview

Kumon is a set of strategies of teaching Mathematics – and more recently Literacy - which aim to boost children’s attainment, with the same methodologies being applied to pupils across the full school age range. It is designed to complement, rather than replace, the traditional school mathematics curriculum, with pupils engaging primarily in self-learning activities at after school study centres.

The Kumon system was designed by Toru Kumon, a Japanese secondary school teacher, who wanted to find a method to support his son Takeshi, who was struggling in Maths at school. Kumon felt that his son’s difficulties arose from the fact that he had not fully mastered the previous learning which he had encountered in school. He therefore designed a series of worksheets which would allow him to progress through the necessary mathematical skills step by step, with regular reinforcement of prior learning. Kumon opened a centre dedicated to these methods in Tokyo in 1962, and began worldwide franchising. The first US Kumon centre opened in New York in 1974, and Kumon was launched in the UK in 1991. It is estimated that there are 2.6 million students completing Kumon courses worldwide, with 48,000 in the UK. Kwok (2001) observes a number of factors involved in the recent growth of commercial tutoring, including an increasing awareness of parents of younger children of the future pressures of examination results.

When registering for a Kumon course, pupils undergo a series of detailed assessments to establish the level at which they are working. They are then "grouped by ability and attainment", rather than by age. "Kumon is a totally individualised learning method, students are not grouped at all. An easy starting point is identified by the initial diagnostic test, then the student progresses through the programme at their own pace, repeating worksheets as necessary to achieve the level of mastery required (based on speed and accuracy) for the next topic." The student will then work through a series of structured worksheets which provide practice in the basic skills before moving on to more advanced levels. The Adam Smith Institute (2002) observes that this is a key difference between Kumon methods and conventional school teaching, and contrasts this approach with the rigidity of age-grouped, whole class work.

A student completing the full Maths program over a period of years will encounter more than 4000 worksheets, which progress from number bonds to calculus. Each student spends up to thirty minutes a day completing calculations of an appropriate difficulty level, beginning slightly below their existing level of attainment. More recently, a similar format has been developed for the teaching of basic Literacy skills, progressing from the earliest pre-reading skills through to critique and text analysis. This enables students to build up speed and confidence: a skill described by Kumon as “mastery”. The student returns to the centre once a week for further "teaching" and to collect new worksheets."Kumon instructors do not teach, they guide and motivate." Although the use of praise is an important part of the process, students may not progress to the next level until they are fully confident and proficient at the existing level. Calculators are not allowed.

Kwok (2001) undertakes a substantial academic review of supplementary tutoring in East Asia, and observes that the methodologies of out of school learning need to be different from those practised in school. He finds that Kumon has a greater emphasis on self-learning than other comparable methods, and less on teacher direction.

There appears to be little independent, rigorous research available on the progress made by Kumon students, especially so in Literacy, which has been a more recent development for the company. There is, however, a range of anecdotal evidence as to the success of individuals and groups who have benefited from Kumon tutoring, particularly in Mathematics: the New York City Board of Education recognised its value as a supplementary program for children encountering difficulties (Biederman 2000). The Adam Smith Institute (2002) reports favourable results found by research projects in the US; Haslam (1995) provides a personal account of its success for a child with Down’s Syndrome. However, Kwok (2001), studying overall trends in East Asian commercial tutoring methods concluded that out of school study programs can leave the students less motivated towards school curricula which are based on whole class teaching approaches.

Sources

Adam Smith Institute (2002) Sum Success, Paper #56, http://www.adamsmith.org/80ideas/idea/56.htm (Visited 10-July-05)

Biederman, Marica (2000) Japanese Math Program Tallies Success With Discipline, The New York Times, 15 November 2000, reproduced at http://csmp.ucop.edu/cmp/comet/2000/11_27_2000.html (Visited 10-July-05)

Haslam, Lynne (1995) Kumon Maths – Is this the key?, Portsmouth Down Syndrome Trust Newsletter, 5(4), pp.1-3. http://www.down-syndrome.net/library/periodicals/pdst-news/05/4/001/ (Visited 10-July-05)

Kwok, Percy (2001) Local knowledge and value transformation in East Asian mass tutorial schools, International Education Journal, Vol.2 (5), pp.86-97. http://iej.cjb.net/ (Visited 10-July-05) Editor's note - a direct URL is not available, but entering 'Kwok' into the site's search box brings up this article.

Useful links

Kumon UK
The official site of Kumon in the United Kingdom, providing an overview of the history and structure of the courses, along with contact details for local centres.
http://www.kumon.co.uk/ (Visited 10-July-05)

Kumon North America
The homepage of the site’s North American operation; a similar format to that of the UK.
http://www.kumon.com/ (Visited 10-July-05)

Kumon Japan
The original Japanese site includes a corporate profile and history of the company in addition to the information available in the UK and US. It also has links to all of the Kumon offices worldwide.
http://www.kumon.ne.jp/english/index.html (Visited 10-July-05)

Teachernet
An single page, objective overview of Kumon Maths in the UK.
http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/library/kumonmaths/ (Visited 10-July-05)

In the news

12-Mar-06 Sunday Times, A worthwhile add-on http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2081089,00.html