THE HISTORY OF KUMON
Kumon is an afterschool program for reading and math that has over 4.5 million enrollments all over the world. It does not follow the normal school curriculum but follows the student’s pace. Kumon is an independent program, and the teachers help the students individually. The Kumon Center does not teach kids in a class. Otherwise, the students would find the class too easy and boring or too hard and challenging. There are many different levels in this program, and students progress when they have mastered them. Mastery is based on speed and accuracy. After they have finished, they take a test that includes all the problem solving skills they have learned.
Toru Kumon founded Kumon after a decade of teaching. He was born on March 1, 1914 in Otsu Village, Nagaoka County, which is now Otsu, Kochi City to his father Kumanosuke and his mother Koyoshi. When he was a young boy his mother would always get mad at him because of his laziness. Toru usually gave the excuse that gokudos (lazybones) are very wise. He entered Shimoji Elementary School, now called Showa Elementary School, but wasn’t interested in school. Then, he entered a private middle school and felt great pressure because the principal expected all students to study harder than at most schools. This school made all students be ahead of their actual grade level through self-learning. Toru had hated studying since elementary school. To make students ahead of grade level, any student who failed an exam would be required to repeat the whole year. Toru didn’t want to spend two years in the same grade, so he tried to catch up to everyone else by studying very hard. Eventually he started to like the middle school’s curriculum and the self-learning way of teaching. Soon, he finished middle school and the weight of the pressure vanished. In 1930, he entered high school and had English class. In the first two years, he only read English texts. The curriculum confused Toru; he couldn’t understand why they didn’t practice grammar or writing. When he became a junior in high school, he discovered he didn’t have any trouble writing English. The effect of reading many books and texts awestruck Kumon . Toru hadn’t attained good grades in Japanese. He tried the same philosophy as he had in English. He read more and suddenly he became better in Japanese writing. Toru enjoyed teaching his friends when they needed help, especially in math. He used his friend’s notes as a model and copied them, so he could sell them to his classmates if necessary. A friend of Kumon said, “Kumon, students would be glad to have you as a teacher.”
He graduated from Osaka Imperial University with a degree in mathematics in 1936. One year after he graduated, Toru stayed in the army for three years, until the army discharged him . After serving, he began to teach in the Tsuchiura Naval Air Fleet as a naval professor. He later taught in four other naval air fleets for about five years. When World War II ended Toru’s friend introduced him to a lady named Teiko Nagai who had a similar educational background. Teiko graduated from Nara Women’s University with the major of education. In 1945, they were married. Afterward, he began to teach at Tenri Junior High School and had a son, Takeshi. Toru and Teiko moved to Toru’s hometown of Kochi, and Toru took a job teaching at Kochi Municipal High School. Two years later, he began to teach at Tosa Junior/Senior High School. Later that year, Toru and Teiko had their second son and named him Hiroshi. In November of 1950, they had their third child and first daughter, Mahoko. Kumon kept on moving to different schools to teach, and in 1954 he realized that Takeshi had trouble in math. Toru worried about Takeshi because he didn’t want him to struggle in math. Toru bought math books to help, but it didn’t work. Toru had the idea of giving Takeshi his own worksheets. Takeshi would do his father’s worksheets every day with his mother’s supervision. When Toru would come back home from teaching math to high schoolers he would correct the sheets. Takeshi would eventually master the problems within a week. They continued to progress together to harder problems. Four years passed and when Takeshi entered sixth grade, he already knew how to solve integral calculus.
The repetitive worksheets worked so well that Kumon decided to use this “Kumon” method with his neighbours. Teiko suggested opening a center where other kids could practice Kumon’s method. Eventually, in 1955, Teiko opened the first Kumon Math Center in Moriguchi City, Osaka. The next year they moved to Toyonaka City in Osaka. Toru and Teiko wanted to build another Kumon Center, so they rented a house next to theirs and converted it to a Kumon Center. Kumon wasn’t very accomplished yet between 1957-1968. He had trouble advertising his company and not much customers. When Kumon was uprising, he owned many Kumon Centers, so he began to recruit more instructors. Kumon obtained the permission to advertise Kumon to parents or people who want a job in education in the newspaper, in 1961. He told them they would learn math skills like the students do.
Toru retired in 1968 to concentrate on his business. He then published a manual called Instruction Principles and Guide. Kumon decided that he would open a Kumon overseas, and in 1971 the first international center opened, in New York. When a Japanese family moved to the U.S, they requested a Kumon Center in New York. In 1974, Kumon granted their request and opened the first center overseas. Then, the effectiveness became widely known, so local people enrolled in Kumon. Another big boost to Kumon happened when Toru published his first book, The Secret of Kumon Math on 1974. This book explained the Kumon method and why it is very effective. The book received a tremendous response, and the company was flooded with enrollments. The reason this book became the bestseller is because people want to know why Kumon is very effective. Three years later he began to make Kumon worksheets for preschoolers. Toru decided to hand over his business to Takeshi in October 1978. In 1980, Kumon created an English program for the native Japanese speakers. The next year they also incorporated a program for Japanese for Japanese speakers. Math remained the only subject in other countries besides Japan. Since Kumon had more subjects than math, the Kumon Center’s name changed from Kumon Institute of Mathematics to Kumon Institute of Education, and they created the first Kumon Logo. In 1985, Kumon increased a lot of enrollments because of the success of Kumon. When Kumon students first enter the Kumon center they go through an orientation of what Kumon is and how it works. Once the orientation is done, new students would take a Placement test, also known as the Kumon Diagnostic Test. This test sees which level the student should be at. If the student gets a really high or low score they take it again. Each test has a range of 20-60 questions.
One day in 1988, the vice principal of Sumiton Elementary School, in Sumiton, Alabama, saw a Kumon commercial and thought that this program would be great in their school. At first they implied the Kumon program to third graders daily as an experiment to see how well American students respond to it. Most of the students had trouble doing math because they were not able to master simple worksheets for basic addition. The average of a test in one third grade class was a score of 87% which took about fourteen minutes to complete. The whole class used the Kumon program for a few weeks and took a similar test again. The average students scored 92% and finished the test in approximately seven minutes. At first the vice principal of this school thought that the Kumon program was fake. They used the Kumon method to older students. The older students had the same result on multiplication and division. Some students in fourth grade progressed so fast that they would divide 8902 by 43.
The next year TIME created an article about Kumon, leading to many more enrollments throughout the world. The TIME magazine was about the progress of Kumon and how the system was created and used. In the same year, the Kumon team finally decided that they would teach Japanese to foreign students instead of teaching it to the native speakers. He visited Brazil in 1994 as his last oversea trip. In Brazil, he celebrated the inauguration of the first completed oversea Kumon building. Kumon opened a headquarters in South America. The result of opening a headquarters is Kumon Centers are all over South America.
He eventually had to rest because of his poor health for six months. Sadly, he passed away six months after he rested. He died on July 25, 1995 at the age of 81 from pneumonia. The year that Toru died many Kumon Centers opened up in different countries, exceeding a million enrollments. When Kumon almost reached one million enrollments, Takeshi died from bladder cancer. The Kumon enrollments rocketed after the father and son died and reached two million enrollments overseas and three million throughout the whole world in only five years. In the same year they exceeded three million students, they redesigned the Kumon logo. A quick three years passed, and a total of four million students enrolled. Two years later, in 2008, they celebrated the 50th anniversary of its establishment. The Kumon team celebrated the 50th anniversary at the Tokyo Dome. Four years later, they produced Baby Kumon in Japan in 2012 which is for one to two years old children since Kumon for three through eighteen years old has progressed so well. Baby Kumon hasn’t been utilized in most Kumon Centers in other countries outside Japan  In North America, Junior Kumon was very successful as a branded program within Kumon for children beginning around 3 years old, but has since been replaced by Early Learners, which is not a separate branded program and therefore not as well known. The company is now trying to promote “Early Learners” better as can be seen by marketing campaigns focusing on young students.