Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 04 Dec 2008

Lots of parents in my area are putting their children in for Kumon maths. Should mine do it, too?

Hillary's Advice

It depends on your children, and your bank balance. Donít do something just to follow the crowd, but if your children are struggling with maths it might be useful.

Kumon maths Ė for those who donít know -- is an out-of-school programme, developed by a Japanese dad, which millions of parents use worldwide. Classes take place after school, and children work at their own pace through ever-harder worksheets. The programme moves from simple counting to advanced algebra Ė although few students get to that dizzy height since most of them are aged five to 12, and stay in the programme for less than two years.

Basically, itís good, old-fashioned maths with lots of practice. Children teach themselves the next level of work from an example at the top of a page, with help if they need it, and at the centres Iíve visited most have seemed to be enjoying the challenge. Or maybe they were just hurrying through their work to get home! Most are dropped off for about twenty minutes during the couple of hours that the centres are open.

But the programme is expensive, it piles work onto children at the end of the school day, and does not address issues of applied maths and problem solving. Some experts believe it is of more use to children who need practice, than to those who havenít understood things in the first place, although Kumon centre directors say they often find that children are much further behind in their understanding than either they or their parents realise.