We have featured the Kumon method before, so interested readers might want to know about what’s pegged as the “new challenge” to Kumon…see news posted below It is called Gaudia established by a partnership between Kawaijuku and Nichinoken. It tries to cash in on Kumon’s self-learning method but offering more bells and whistles to instil in kids a joy of learning. However, with Gaudia’s current classrooms numbering only three in total, two in Meguro ward and one in Setagaya ward, Gaudia can hardly be much of a challenge to Kumon for now. Nevertheless, we all like to keep an eye on upcoming interesting stuff… Also particularly interesting and featured in the post below is the new puzzle club called Algo Club.
Educational Renaissance / Gaudia challenges Kumon
Yuka Matsumoto and Atsushi Miyazaki Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
The following are excerpts from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This part of the series focuses on increasing competition among juku cram schools.
The Kumon juku chain was launched in 1958 to offer a self-learning method developed by high school math teacher Toru Kumon. Students at its centers, ranging from preschool to high school age, work on worksheets on mathematics, Japanese and English at a level suitable to each student, regardless of school grade. Instructors mainly offer help and advice on each student’s learning.
Having expanded its franchise network both in Japan and overseas, Kumon has achieved a dominant market position by operating cram schools that help primary school students acquire the basics of math and Japanese. Now a new juku, Gaudia, has thrown down the gauntlet.
“It has been shown that children’s reading and thinking ability is on the decline,” Hiroshi Ueda, 43, executive managing director at Gaudia, Inc., told six mothers at a briefing session in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, in late January. “At the same time, there is concern over whether pattern learning employed by a major juku chain can really help children develop authentic scholastic ability.”
Alongside the mothers, their children–preschoolers who were set to start primary school this month–were working on worksheets.
Among documents distributed to the mothers at the session were newspaper articles as well as learning materials developed by the “major juku chain,” which, of course, refers to Kumon.
“At Gaudia, we aim at helping our students not only acquire the basics, but also develop three kinds of skills–to understand what is asked, to discover clues to the solution and to express their own answers,” Ueda said. “Our ultimate goal is developing ‘practical skills.'”
On that day, two of the six mothers decided to send their children to Gaudia, one of whom made up her mind to “transfer” her daughter from Kumon. “I’d like to try a new approach,” the mother said.
Gaudia was set up in 2006 jointly by a Tokyo-based affiliate of Kawaijuku Educational Institution, a major juku chain, and a Yokohama-based affiliate of Nichinoken Corp., a juku chain specializing in entrance exams for middle schools. The name comes from the Latin word “gaudium”–meaning “joy”–hoping to instill in children the joy of learning.
The venture was initially proposed by Kawaijuku, which began to examine four years ago the idea of launching a business for primary school students before presenting the idea to Nichinoken. The two companies also conducted interviews with 200 parents of children at this stage before agreeing to set up a juku focusing on the basics of math and Japanese.
Although the two companies are well aware that the field is dominated by Kumon, they are also confident that there is still room for them to address students’ needs.
Gaudia shares a self-learning approach with Kumon, but its materials have some different features. They are in full color with a lot of illustrations and are designed “to help our students understand a process of thinking, rather than just repeating calculations,” Ueda said.
Math worksheets, for example, require students to come up with several formulas that result in the same answer or discover common numbers applicable to pairs of formulas when only their answers are shown. Japanese worksheets, meanwhile, make them read relatively long compositions.
Gaudia officially opened three centers in February in Tokyo’s Meguro and Setagaya wards. Initially intended for children who will be first- and second-year primary school students as of the new school year starting this month, the juku plans to gradually expand its coverage up to sixth-year students, aiming at having 150 centers nationwide–including some franchises–in three years.
Kumon seems to remain unruffled in the face of the challenge from the newcomer.
“By setting an ultimate goal to be able to deal with derivation and integration, our students make discovery and challenges on their own in the process of solving problems–Kumon’s method is something we’ve improved on over the past five decades,” said Takeshi Hashiguchi, 43, director at Kumon Institute of Education Co.
The Kumon method attracted 1.5 million students to 17,600 centers in Japan, while 2.64 million children were studying at 7,800 centers in 44 countries and territories worldwide as of January.
In India, for example, which places great stock in education, Kumon recently opened six centers. In addition to about 500 children learning there, an additional 100 are on a waiting list. In the Middle East, too, new centers have opened in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, countries that are developing rapidly thanks to their petroleum revenues. These centers attract much attention as parents in these countries believe that their children also have to develop self-learning abilities, according to Kumon.
If Kumon is a global juku Goliath, then Gaudia is ready to take on the role of David.
In preparing children to study math, could puzzles be the solution?
Divided into groups of four, a classroom full of children were playing a game in which they had to deduce the numbers printed on cards held by their classmates. At another point in the class they tried puzzles that called for arranging flat objects or building specified forms from cubes. The children never showed signs of getting bored as they played eight kinds of “mathematical games” during the 90-minute class.
So went an “Algo Club” class recently observed by The Yomiuri Shimbun. Intended mainly for 5-year-olds through third-year primary school students, Algo Club is a mathematical training program aimed at helping children develop thinking ability, concentration, perseverance and manners. The developers of the material include Peter Frankle, a Japan-based Hungarian mathematician and street entertainer.
Juku cram schools can offer the Algo Club program under license from a Tokyo-based company of the same name, with about 90 locations nationwide currently holding classes.
The class described above was held at Hiroshima-based juku cram school chain Rijo Gakuin’s Hiroshima center. The chain mainly offers preparatory programs for middle school entrance exams.
“Mathematical puzzles are tough, but interesting,” said Yutaro Miura, 9, one of the children in the class.
“Even before coming here, my son loved puzzles,” his mother, Atsuko, 35, added. “But after taking Algo Club classes, he seems to be able to progress through trial and error.”
Juku cram schools usually offer preparatory programs for middle school entrance exams, starting with fourth-year primary school students, because by that time children develop the concentration necessary to process studies as scheduled. However, some cram schools teach the younger students what the older ones are supposed to learn, claiming that this kind of early teaching is necessary to help them fully acquire the knowledge they are taught.
But Rijo Gakuin head Katsumi Kadotani, 48, thinks otherwise.
“I’ve long believed that as long as primary school students learn how to think or stay focused during their younger grades rather than merely cramming in knowledge, they can keep developing [their abilities] as they move into higher grades,” he said. “However, I couldn’t find any suitable teaching approach for younger ones to meet that aim.”
Soon after Algo Club became available in 2005, therefore, Kadotani decided to offer the program at his own juku chain. When it offered trial classes the following year, it attracted more than 200 children–twice as many as expected.
“Parents of today’s primary school students themselves developed their calculation skills at juku, but from their own experience they know that calculation is just part of overall scholastic ability,” Kadotani pointed out. “Now that more and more parents have only one child, they are taking a harder look at juku, trying desperately to find the one that can really help their children’s scholastic performance.”
The results of the Program for International Student Assessment conducted in 2006 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that Japanese children had fallen in the rankings in both science and mathematical literacy. The results are among several indicators that have prompted many to argue that Japanese children nowadays lack thinking power.
Consequently, parents are experiencing growing anxiety over their children’s scholastic abilities, and this is an apparent factor behind the popularity of Algo Club.
Meanwhile, Yotsuya Otsuka, a major Tokyo-based chain specializing in preparatory programs for middle school entrance exams, has also decided to introduce Algo Club at six of its centers beginning this month.
Nonetheless, Algo Club has just a three-year history. It will need much more time to judge the real advantage–whether the puzzle-based program for children up to third grade will be able to help them develop not only skills to pass entrance exams, but also thinking skills useful for their whole life.