Kumon – or how I outsourced parenting

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.

9 thoughts on “Kumon – or how I outsourced parenting

  1. Jake

    I am a Kumon parent and my son is in level J I just want to see the test paper online so i would know what he would be studing and help him study for the test. It is hard for me to go to the center to see it because i am on a wheelechair and the doctor ristricted to travle i would really apprieciate it.


  2. E Jackson

    This company is destined for FAILURE. We made the mistake of ignoring the strip mall atmosphere that you described (Full Liquor Store Below It). You were correct in knowing that the majority of “customers” are noticeably of “East Indian” decent (just an observation-I was engaged to a Patel). My 17 year old daughter was hired a week ago. She is a straight honors student who was thrilled at her first job,starting at $7.50 an hour. They hired about five high school students at the same time and then a week later, after having them work their shifts….fired them. No explanation, no exit interview…just fired and told they were not a “good” fit. She was devastated. They think that they can treat these great young adults that are high acheivers like “trash”. Three of the “fired” employees were standing outside waiting for their rides.

    My daughter takes extreme pride in her academic successes. She is on National Honor Society and other great activities. She has a heart of gold! On top of that she felt so passionate about getting the job. She received “stellar” references from her teachers. She was surprised that there really wasn’t any training provided. She tried her best, and was surprized to see the majority of the instruction occurs with students such as herself. Today she was asked to work from 4:00 to 7:00pm. She worked her shift and then without notice, fired. No training was provided during the four days she worked. She took city buses to get there, walked a mile in order not to be late. She was so honored to get a job there. She was literally “thrown” into the job. She never received any instruction other than that of other “17? year olds that were also new. The owner/director said that “after all, it is a probation period”. The other “fired” students were just as surprized. Is this truly how the company is supposed to be run? Is this the reputation you want?

    I went inside and requested that the owner/director have the decency to at least explain to my daughter, why she was being let go. They had never requested w4?s or I-9?s, so I am also considering suing over unfair and illegal labor practices. This company is bound to be going downhill soon. I refuse to let this matter go, as this is just plain wrong.

    This Kumon franchise and those like it trying to obtain “cheap” high school labor without a thought about what they are doing, and needs to stop. This office is located on Eubank & Academy, Albuquerque, NM. Today’s Date: October 18, 2010.
    Do you truly know who is teaching your children? Ask about their training. I want to know about their licensing.


  3. lotus

    Just methodology just doesn’t do anything. In Schools and in life we all have to analyse and arrive at the equation and then follow the methodology. if have to sharpen our skills to think analytically. So hit books. Stores, online library etc


  4. Karan

    This is a fake review. Kumon is the worst program students like me have to suffer from. I hate it and I hate it. Kumon is just for dumb kids not smart kids.


    1. Vidya Pradhan Post author

      A lot of kids feel like you Karan! I had to take my daughter out of Kumon after she expressed similar sentiments!


    2. Vidya Pradhan Post author

      Karan, I would like to hear what exactly you hate about Kumon. It would be useful to others reading this post.



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