Learning the Kumon way
Passing her peers ... Dasha Moskalenko has been a student in the Japanese Kumon method of coaching for four years. She stands in front of the worksheets that form part of the method. Photo: Steven Siewert
Kumon classrooms are easy to spot. Floor to ceiling pigeonholes store thousands of worksheets. The learning method claims no secret formula. The idea is basic.
Students begin to learn maths and English at a level at which they feel comfortable, regardless of their age. They progress incrementally through levels by completing worksheets. Grading reflects speed and accuracy.
Our goal is to move them beyond their school level within the first year so that school is revision ...
The method, which originated in Japan more than 50 years ago, has become increasingly popular over the past decade. More than 38,000 Australians learn Kumon, a rise of more than 5000 since 2007.
It is taught in 47 countries and claims to have almost 4.5 million students worldwide.
Kumon Australia says it has seen a tenfold increase in the number of students studying five years ahead of international age standards over the past decade.
Like most alternative learning methods, Kumon has its critics. Opinions on teaching and parenting blogs are varied. Many claim it is expensive, excessive and counterproductive to school work. Others argue the rote learning method is repetitive and mind-numbing.
Sue Leffers has been a Kumon instructor for 28 years and says the program's advantage is that it is tailored to fit students' capabilities and personalities.
''If the child is at a school where the homework is highly demanding and they have a lot of other commitments then I'll adjust the workload to suit them,'' said Ms Leffers, who teaches at Bondi Junction.
While students are expected to practise each day, the amount of time can range from 10 minutes to more than an hour.
''Our goal is to move them beyond their school level within the first year so that school is revision,'' she said.
Dasha Moskalenko has been attending Ms Leffers's classes once a week for four years. She is 13 and has already completed Kumon English, which is comparable with year 12. She began the program because she was struggling with her maths and she is now about to complete Kumon maths, too, which is equivalent to unit 4 HSC mathematics. She solves problems in calculus, trigonometry and advanced differentiation.
At Kumon, Dasha works up to five years ahead of her peers at Kambala, where she is studying on a full scholarship.
''The topics that we learn [at school] are really easy and I learnt them a long time ago in Kumon,'' she said.
Because she can complete her school work so quickly, she said she has little homework and more time for piano, violin, dancing and tennis.
The Australian Tutoring Association president, Chris Druett, said the program has strengths but will not work for everyone.
''For a child who can work independently it's fantastic but it doesn't work so well if the child needs individual attention,'' he said.
Has your child tried Kumon to help them progress in maths and English? What was your experience? Discuss on the Essential Kids Forums.