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Kumon: A Magical Journey

Endless love for a son is the origin of Kumon.

In 1954, Toru Kumon (1914-1995) and his wife realised their son struggled with maths in elementary school. Toru was a mathematics high school teacher in Japan. He decided to create his own learning method for his son, so based on trial and error that he wrote about 800 worksheets by hand on loose-leaf paper. Toru made his son practice thirty minutes every day. After a few months, Toru´s son started making steady progress, and by sixth grade he was able to do differential and integral calculus.

Soon, many other children from the neighbourhood asked for Toru´s help. He decided to teach them with the same method he had used for his son. After seeing that all his students were very motivated and greatly improved their math skills, he opened several maths centres all over Japan. Toru dedicated the rest of his life to expanding the Kumon method all over the world. His method is now available in more than 50 countries, and the worksheets are translated into eleven different languages.

Is Kumon a magical method?

Many people might think Kumon is a quick, magical method to become a maths genius. Nothing is further from the truth! Enrolling in the Kumon program improves your mathematics ability because you practice daily throughout multiple years. However, I will try to explain why I think there is some real magic in the Kumon program.

Looking back, I have to admit I was very lucky to start Kumon at the age of six with one of the best and most experienced instructors in Madrid, Dolores Yáñez from Arturo Soria Kumon Centre. At that time, my parents observed that while I had no talent for drawing or painting, I had a facility with numbers. Therefore, they decided to reinforce my mathematical talent and enrolled me in Kumon.

At the very beginning, the Kumon Program was quite easy for me because one of its principles is to set what they call a “comfortable starting point”. In the early stages, they give you exercises that are below your level, so you can build a solid foundation. This allows you to enjoy numbers, teaches you to be more independent, shows you how you can learn from your mistakes, and helps you develop self-learning skills.

The Kumon Program is a home-based education system and is divided into 15 Levels. The 800 worksheets Toru made for his son are the origin of the worksheets the program uses today. However, the method has been modernised and specialised, and today Kumon consists of 4,420 worksheets organised within those levels, starting from very basic mathematical facts and progressing all the way up through high school level maths.

Every single day (except Christmas Eve and Three Kings Day) during the last eleven years, I have completed Kumon worksheets: I started at level A, and now I am about to finish level “O”. In the beginning, I performed simple addition computations, and presently I am working on complicated calculus problems, including differentiation and integrations of 3D shapes. It is true that the Kumon worksheets are designed to gradually increase in difficulty through small steps; however, I have to admit that sometimes those steps were not so small for me! I still remember how hard it was for me at the age of seven to pass level B. In retrospect, I realise that I did not give up thanks to my instructor and my parents’ support.

A personalised and self-learning method

Many people do not know that Kumon is a very personalised learning method. During all these years, I made progress at a comfortable pace. When I had to concentrate on my exams at school (SATs or IGCSEs), my instructor assigned me fewer worksheets to complete, but when I was on holiday, we asked her to double the number of worksheets. Needless to say it was not easy to do Kumon at the beach, in an airplane, or even at the zoo!

One surprising thing about Kumon is that the instructors do not explain the concepts and then give you tons of exercises. At Kumon, they introduce mathematical concepts in a way that enables students to learn it by themselves. I have to confess that sometimes this was not easy for me because I wanted to learn everything in the fastest possible way! However, after all these years, I understand that this introspective and self-learning method has helped me face challenges in a more effective way and solve problems, not only mathematical problems but any kind of problem. Kumon has allowed me to advance beyond the school’s level of maths, and I have acquired self-learning skills that I guess I will use for the rest of my life. Needless to say, even though I am in the last level of Kumon, I still have many areas of study that I can improve and upgrade. Maybe that is one of the main reasons I have decided to study a career that is related to numbers and problem solving: engineering.

My first work experience

Not only was I lucky enough to be a Kumon student, but also two years ago my instructor afforded me the opportunity to work as a volunteer assistant teacher in her centre. At the very beginning, I was nervous about not meeting my instructor’s expectations, but with her help and the other teacher´s support, I discovered the way in which I could be useful to them and help other students benefit from the Kumon program.

After two years of my volunteering job at Kumon, I now understand both the effort teachers put into their job every day and the support parents give to their children level after level.

Trust in your “endless potential”

During the last ten years, my Kumon instructor, my American family, and my parents always believed in my potential. They never let me quit and helped me to develop my academic skills in order to improve my confidence and my capacity to think logically.

Hidenori Ikegami, President of Kumon Institute of Education Co, Ltd stated that “in our increasingly globalised and diversified world, the fostering of competent human resources is becoming more and more important. Today, there is a tremendous demand for quality education. All of us at Kumon feel a deep responsibility and sense of mission as we strive to make a contribution to the global community, and ultimately to world peace, through individualized education”. I hope one day, as an engineer, I can contribute to society and help make a better world.

Mr. Kumon was convinced that children had “endless potential”. Today, in every Kumon centre you can find evidence that through daily practice, students can achieve a high level of maths that allows them to build solid confidence to learn on their own. He believed that “there is never ‘good enough,’ there must always be ‘something better´. That is the real magic of Kumon: never give up and keep practising even when you think you can not go on!

The Kumon logo is known worldwide but you might not know that the logo expresses the values of Kumon. The face is what is called the “THINKING FACE.” It represents the faces of all Kumon students who are learning the method, and also symbolises the faces of Kumon Instructors who are thinking about the welfare of children in their charge.

“The colour blue represents intelligence, honesty, and the sky that stretches across the world. It also represents our hope that the world will be united as one, that the future of our children will grow on a grand scale, and that people all over the world will think more seriously about education”.

By Antonio García 12M

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