By Vidya Pradhan
“Look at it this way,” said a friend recently. “Text messaging has made written English irrelevant and learning historical and geographical facts has become unnecessary in a Wiki-world. That just leaves….math!”
While the Indian community has always been ahead of the curve in its obsession with math, public school education in the US has not always kept up with our interest in this department. A study by the Program for International Student Assessment showed that the 15 year olds in the US ranked 24th in the world in math literacy. By contrast, a story in Business Week titled “Math will rock your world” suggests careers in math are exploding.
No matter where in the US they find themselves, no matter what the quality of the neighborhood school is, Indian parents take the initiative to ensure that their children build a strong foundation in math. Here we take a look at some of the tuition options available to make sure your child is not left behind in the race to compete in math.
Kumon: Kumon is a big favorite of Indian parents because its systematic drill-based approach to learning is familiar and comforting to people who have gone through the Indian educational system. The child is given sets of graduated worksheets to be completed at home. The emphasis is on repeated practice till the child has virtually ‘memorized’ the math. There is little external teaching involved and there is no homework help. Self-learning is the principle and parents need to be prepared to correct the daily work with the help of an answer book. Cost typically runs to around $100 a month with a weekly or bi-weekly visit to the center. More info on Kumon can be found here. Recommendation: Ideal for the summer months when curriculum is not an issue and a daily dose of math keeps the brain cells from degrading!
SCORE: SCORE educational centers provide a computer based learning system. The child learns and practices on the computer with teachers floating around the room to provide help if he/she gets stuck. The child moves to the next level on getting a certain percentage of questions right on the test. Concepts are reinforced by the teachers in personal interactions. Tests are timed. Motivation is provided in the form of SCORE cards that can be redeemed for prizes. The program covers not just math but reading, writing and science. The cost is around $200 a month. More info on SCORE can be found here.
Recommendation: Good for kids who enjoy learning on the computer and good for reinforcing concepts being taught at school. Kids stay motivated and look forward to collecting SCORE cards. Pure learning benefits are dubious though as the program is primarily directed by the child rather than the teacher. If he/she doesn’t learn, the student can end up staying at a particular level for a while. Also, moving the kid to the next level on a passing grade of 70% or so may mean some concepts are still not well understood by the child.
Mathnasium: Unlike Kumon and SCORE, this is a franchise exclusively devoted to math. After an oral and written evaluation, a prescriptive program is designed for the student. Ravi Pillai is the director of the Cupertino Branch. “We have a 4 to 1 student-teacher ratio. It is individualized instruction in a group setting. We employ the Socratic method – that is – the student is encouraged to solve the problem himself/herself with the help of a series of directed questions from the teacher,” says Ravi.
Rasika Pande and her sister Ishani attend the Cupertino center. Says Rasika, who recently scored 30.5 out of 30 in a test at school because of her excellent understanding of the concept, “Mathnasium is a lot more fun than school. In school I am uncomfortable about asking questions. Here I can ask for help without feeling that I am dumb.”
Rasika also feels much more confident about math at school because she has already worked on the problems on practice worksheets at Mathnasium. “The teachers are very nice,” she adds. “They teach me lots of tricks and tips to solve problems faster.”
Mathnasium’s fee structure is modeled after the gym (hence the name). For a monthly fee of around $200, kids can drop in as many times as they want. (Other fee structures are also available.) Homework help is provided. The program runs from 2nd grade and goes all the way to high school. Calculus is also covered on request. More info on Mathnasuim can be found here.
Recommendation: Closer to individualized tuition than the other methods discussed so far, this is a good bet if you happen to live close to a center. Kids have the flexibility of choosing their time and can work it around extracurricular activities. Also, for kids struggling with math, the unlimited drop-in can be very useful for intensive coaching.
Ed2Net Learning: This is a completely customized online tuition system. Each student is assigned to a teacher online. and concepts are taught and reviewed in a one-on-one interaction. Grade wise curriculum is followed. “We are not reinventing the wheel,” says Rahul Gupta, CEO of Ed2net, “otherwise the kid has to cope with 2 methods of instruction.”
Ed2net uses an online shared screen technology to connect the teacher and the student. With location not being an issue, teachers are spread out over the US while the company is headquartered in Dallas. A back office in India does the preparation and correction of the worksheets but the instruction is done by teachers in the US.
A free session starts the process. This session acts as a diagnostic. Feedback from this session is used to tailor a customized program in consultation with the parent. After that, weekly sessions at a time fixed at the convenience of the child provide the tuition. “We recommend investing in a writing tablet so we can observe the child’s thinking process,” says Rahul, though it is not compulsory. A VOIP connection with headphone is needed for the teacher/student dialogue.
Gopal Kaul’s sons have signed up for this program. “Being an Indian parent you want your kids to be strong in math and science but you don’t always have the time to stay on top of what is being taught at school,” says Gopal. “In higher grades, especially, there is a lot of home study expected of the child. In Ed2net, I found that I was able to communicate my expectations to the teachers and ensure my child was always challenged.” Another thing Gopal liked about the program was that the teacher stayed the same through all the sessions, something that may not be possible in an offline tuition center. “As for the cost, it is equivalent to 2 dinners a month.”
Fees run to $80 a month for a minimum of 4 hour-long sessions. More sessions can be signed up for $20 per hour. Ed2net offers math tuition from grade 2 to Pre-Algebra. An investment may be required in a writing tablet which runs about $50. More info on Ed2net can be found here.
Recommendation: Ed2net appears to be the cheapest, most individualized and customized program among the ones discussed here. The model offers convenience and affordability and ensures a very individualistic approach to learning. Kids will have to familiarize themselves with the shared screen technology but for today’s tech-savvy kids that should be a snap. Not having to drive your kid to one more activity is quite an incentive for parents.
Mathedge: Mathedge, which offers classes in Cupertino and Fremont, is the brainchild of Ewa Garg, a Chinese American married to an Indian. An electrical engineer by training, Ewa designed a math curriculum that emphasizes problem solving using real life examples. “We are very particular about the vocabulary and incorporate practical examples like calculating wages, royalties, salaries and deductions to teach math,” says Ewa. It is a classroom setting where batches of 6-8 students are taught by a teacher in a dynamic and interactive process. “Being able to come up with the correct answer is not as important as showing how you reached the conclusion,” adds Ewa. Students are grouped by ability and not age.
Though the primary purpose is teaching math, Mathedge has earned a reputation in competitive coaching. The top 10% of students are trained for various math contests and Olympiads and winners travel to Hong Kong every year for the World Math Contest.
Mathedge offers classes from K-8th grade in school math, mental math and competitive math. Fees are yearly and work out to about $150 a month with classes typically running 1.5 hours for regular students and 2-4 hours for competitive coaching. More info on Mathedge can be found here.
This is hardly a comprehensive list. Knowing the strong commitment Indian parents have towards math education, we invite our readers to share their math secrets. Let us know where your child learns math and what has worked for him/her.