Undoubtedly, there were many great mathematicians who discovered many important theories in the field of mathematics. Perhaps, most notable among these great mathematicians was Albert Einstein who advanced the theory of relativity which many agree is human thought of the highest quality. Another notable mathematician is Sir Isaac Newton who is acknowledged to have laid the foundation for differential and integral calculus long before its discovery by Liebnitz, but whose greatest contribution is the theory of universal gravitation. Still another famous mathematician is Blaise Pascal who, at a tender age of 12, discovered that the sum of the angles of a triangle are 2 right angles. (“The World Great Mathematicians”).
The above names are just a few of the long list of illustrious mathematicians who pioneered many mathematical theories that are now our foundations of mathematic study. Indeed, a cursory review of many books and even the internet yields several names of great mathematicians and their impressive contributions to the advancement of mathematical thought. We owe our understanding of many mathematical theories to these great people.
While our great mathematicians pioneered many theories that are widely used now, only a very few were able to combine business with the learning of mathematics outside the traditional classroom setting. This is the story of Mr. Toru Kumon, and how he harnessed the potential of learning mathematics and make it into a business empire that it is today. (“Biography of Toru Kumon”)
Toru Kumon was no great mathematician. He did not pioneer any mathematical theories. In fact, he was a simple Math teacher who saw a need and filled it. That need was to give supplemental drills to kids struggling with their mathematics and in the process gain mastery of mathematical operations. While doing this, Kumon started and grew a business empire that now spans several countries and continents.
The greatness of Toru Kumon lies in his having pioneered a system of helping students with their math subject, and in the process master the art of mathematics. We may not acknowledge it, but the truth is mathematics plays a major role in our day to day to life.
One may ask what motivated Toru Kumon to be so passionate in spreading the love for learning mathematics, initially with his own son, and eventually with other Japanese children. The answer lies in the priority that Japan gives to education. The Japanese government has put a high priority in catching up with the western standards of science and education. It is said that parents are very committed to early childhood education and provide their children with many opportunities for learning thru materials and television programs, of which there are many.
Biography of Toru Kumon
Toru Kumon (March 26, 1914 – July 25, 1995) was born in the province of Kochi, Japan. He graduated from the Osaka University of Science with a degree in Mathematics and taught Mathematics in his home town. (“Biography of Toru Kumon”)
Birth of Kumon
As in many other great businesses, Toru Kumon’s business enterprise started with a simple idea and to fill a simple need – to assist his son, Takeshi, who was struggling with his mathematics. One night in 1954, Mr. Kumon, came home one night very distressed when his son Takeshi presented a poor report card in arithmetic. Needless to say, he must have felt his pride trashed with the report. Upon his wife’s prodding, he reviewed the child’s textbook and was so appalled by what he found that he devised a back-to-basics home study program in which his son was required to complete one page of problems a day, progressing to a slightly higher level the next day. (“Biography of Toru Kumon”)
Other parents became interested in Kumon’s ideas, and so, in 1956, the first Kumon centre was opened in Osaka, Japan. In 1958, Toru Kumon founded the Kumon Institute of Education. It focused on individual study to help reach the child’s full potential.
Mechanics of Kumon Program
According to an obituary about Toru Kumon, the program was so effective that by the time his son reached high school, he had mastered complex college calculus and his father had started a network of after-school teaching centers that swept Japan. It now has revenues of more than $500,000 a year. (“Toru Kumon, Innovator, 81, In Math Studies”)
The same obituary details the success of Kumon program all over the globe. It cites that through a network of franchised after-school centers and programs for public and private schools, the program, which also offers a reading program, has about 65,000 pupils in the United States. Today, the Kumon method is one of the largest maths and language learning systems in the world. There are over 3 million children using the Kumon method in over 43 different countries. In North America alone there are 1,400 Kumon centres. The idea behind Kumon is to concentrate on the individual student and let them progress at their own pace. Kumon starts with very basic skills such as addition and subtraction. This is only the foundation, however, for as Kumon progresses through the 23 levels, the maths becomes increasingly challenging.
Devoting no more than 30 minutes a day to the program, but doing it seven days a week, mostly at home, students in the program complete finely calibrated work sheets, each almost imperceptibly more advanced than the one before.
The method requires pupils to get all the problems on a given work sheet right within a fixed time limit, generally 10 minutes, before advancing to the next level.
It is a measure of the method’s degree of gradation, and its stress on repetition, that there are 70 sheets of simple 1 + problems and 50 devoted to the addition of 2.
In addition to teaching math, the program is designed to instill discipline and build self-esteem, a goal that is achieved in part by virtually assuring new pupils initial success by starting them on the graduated Kumon road at a point a year or two behind their current grade levels.
The method has been derided by critics as a “drill and kill” curriculum that stresses rote learning and memorization over creative problem-solving, but Kumon lore is filled with stories of 8-year-olds mastering calculus.
Benefits of Kumon
Such achievements seem all the more impressive since the after-school program, which costs about $70 a month, appeals primarily to parents whose children are lagging in school.
But studies have shown that Kumon benefits gifted children as well as underachievers, groups the founder regarded as indistinguishable.
“Every child is a gifted child,” he once said, perhaps in reference to a remembered second grader with a poor report card.
Toru Kumon died at the age of 81 at Osaka, Japan.
Law, Morris, “The World Great Mathematicians.” Scientific Computing Laboratory. (1995). Hongkong Baptist Academy. 14 June 2009. <http://www.sci.hkbu.edu.hk/scilab/math/math.html>
Toru Kumon – Biography of Toru Kumon. 2005. 14 June 2009.
<http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/toru-kumon/ Toru Kumon – Biography of Toru Kumon.html>
Thomas, Robert, “Toru Kumon, Innovator, 81, In Math Studies”. New York Times. 27 July 1995. Obituaries. 14 June 2009.