If you are among the remaining 6 Indians who haven’t heard of Kumon, it is an after-school tutoring program in Math and English operated out of franchises. Developed about 50 years ago in Japan, the system emphasizes a graduated approach to mastering technique.
I succumbed to Kumon after my 11 year old had a particularly rough year in 5th grade. Surrounded by scions of engineering toppers, the poor child managed to feel dumb when he didn’t get all straight A’s at year-end and was receptive to the idea of supplemental help.
The nearest Kumon center was a short drive away, located in a strip mall surrounded by gas stations and fast food joints. As seedy as its neighborhood, the place was decidedly low-tech, with hand-written notices liberally papering the single room with its aluminium chairs and tables.
Naren was given an HB pencil and a test sheet and asked to solve the problems. It took him about 30 minutes and at the end the harried franchise owner, who was also dealing with half-a-dozen other Indian kids, categorized him in some way not obvious to the layperson(me) and handed him a box with practice sheets for the coming week. Naren’s job was to finish one sheet set every day.
My job was to correct said sheet. The Kumon system takes the concept of self in “self-motivated learning” to a new high. There is no instruction, none at all. The difficulty level is calibrated and graduated in such a way that the child is supposed to simply progress by himself(herself). The child learns on his own and the parent corrects his/her work.
After a few days of this, I had serious doubts. Why was I paying to be doing all the work? Creating the question set is dead simple, after all. I could come up with the 50 questions or so in about 15 minutes.
Turns out what you are paying a 100 bucks a month for is not the Kumon test sheets, but two completely different services that Kumon provides. The first is the answer booklet. Making up the questions may take a matter of minutes but solving the darned questions yourself is another thing altogether. Even if it is only compound fractions I have to deal with so far, the pain involved in getting down and dirty with 5th grade math is gladly to be avoided for 3 dollars a day. I freely admit, I am not smarter than a 5th grader.
The second, more important service, at least in my household, is that of outsourcing discipline. I can just imagine the pitched battles I would have every day with a recalcitrant tween over sitting down with pages of math in mother’s illegible hand. Somehow, when it’s all typed up and comes in a neatly packaged box, the bitter pill becomes a lot easier to swallow. The same child, who would look and behave as if he was being asked to stitch buttons in a dingy sweatshop if asked to do chores, meekly finishes his Kumon set first thing every morning and brings it over to be corrected. At least for a few minutes a day, I have the joyful illusion of being the parent of a well-brought up son. I don’t know if the Japanese work-ethic is being transmitted by some mysterious process of osmosis, but whatever it is, it seems to work.
So Mr. Franchisee, you can count on one more loyal Indian parent to enrich your coffers on a monthly installment plan. It is not because we think very highly of your methods. It is because we know the value of outsourcing and just can’t pass up such a good deal.