It is not enough for a learner to meet the expectations of their parents and teachers. Instead, says Kumon instructor Magda Swanepoel, parents should expect ‘ordinary’ learners to exceed all expectations by excelling in all subjects consistently, New Era reports.
By Catherine Sasman
“What is 5 + 5?” The response from a seven-year-old three years ago was something like: “Seven-thousand nine hundred and forty two.” The same question repeated two minutes later would easily trigger a response such as, “one million and fifty-five,” or whatever number fancied the young child.
Asking the same child the same question today – while throwing in a number of other more complicated calculations – the responses come in thick and fast … and correct.
This same child, now 10 years old, will tell you in easy conversation about the “scientific explanation of the planetary movements” and give a detailed account of what he has read or seen on television about planets and other such.
The child clearly was not ‘stupid’ three years ago, but a physical impediment straining learning was addressed timely through occupational therapy and a revolutionary learning method, called the Kumon method.
The result: a happy and confident self-learning child, and even happier parents and teachers.
Another child, now entering his Grade 10, first failed his Grade 2 when his parents enrolled him into the Kumon programme. Today, he averages on 80 percent in all his subjects.
Yet another child had continuous learning problems and after some years in the Kumon programme, was able to confidently do Grade 12 Mathematics as a Grade 10 learner.
Explaining the concept of the Kumon method of learning, Kumon instructor and head of Eduhelp in Windhoek, Magda Swanepoel says: “If you observe a herd of sheep closely, you will see that they follow exactly the same route to the water trough every day.”
How this happens, she says, is that the brain of the sheep has ‘mapped out’ the route to the water trough. It does not require any amount of thinking, but becomes part of the behaviour of the sheep. The repetitive activity ‘sticks’ to the sheep.
With the Kumon method, the brain of the child is trained to become fit and ‘find a path’ to solutions.
The programme provides children with number and language skills, from the most basic up to tertiary level.
It is a method that facilitates self-learning and self-confidence in learners. It is not limited to a school grade framework. Rather, it is an instruction method that allows a child – and any child for that matter – to advance beyond grade levels.
“It nurtures children’s ability to learn by themselves, think for themselves and carve out their own paths for their future,” says Swanepoel.
Because the programme is finely calibrated to each individual child’s level, the system allows for a ‘just-right’ level for each learner, thus to ‘fit the shoe to the foot’ and not the other way round.
Swanepoel says mainstream teachers often complain about children not able to sit still for five minutes. Her take on things is that it is not because the child cannot sit still, but because of the work in front of the child. Perhaps the child finds the work too difficult and hence loses interest.
The Kumon process therefore introduces a “comfortable starting level” for each child.
“By discovering the potential of each individual and developing his or her ability to the maximum, we aim to foster sound, capable people and thus contribute to the global community,” states the Kumon programme.
The Kumon programme is simply called after its founder, Japanese Mathematics teacher Toru Kumon, who developed it more than 50 years ago while struggling with his own son’s difficulties to understand Mathematics.
Today, it has grown into a global network of students. In Japan, where it originated, one finds a Kumon centre every 300 metres. There children as young as two to three are enrolled and it is often expected for 12-year-olds to have completed the programme.
“Why then do our parents think that it is acceptable for a child to get a 60 percent if so much more is possible?” challenges Swanepoel.
The method involves sufficient repetitions of Mathematics and language (in this case, English) on worksheets – most of it done at home – to obtain a 100 percent and if there are mistakes, they can easily correct them. Mastery at all levels is the key.
“We are fixing the foundation, especially in Mathematics, because here, one skill builds upon the previous skill learnt. Often you will find that the foundation is faulty and the child is forced to perform at a curriculum-prescribed level and pace. But everything will come down like a house of cards if there are gaps in the foundation,” says Swanepoel.
“The Kumon method works systematically. Once the child works on a constant basis, the child’s performance in all other subject areas improves dramatically. The brain gets fit,” Swanepoel says.
How it Works
The Eduhelp centre in Windhoek has expanded into a school for children with special needs, offers remedial courses, as well as the Kumon programme.
Although the school caters for children with special needs, it does the mainstream curriculum from Grade 1 to Grade 12.
It boasts with a 100 percent pass rate of its 14 Grade 10 learners, who attained an average of 26 points, where a 23-point mark signifies a pass.
All these students, with the exception of one who simply prefers the school to others, have ‘special needs’.
These range from dyslexia (difficulty to read), dysgraphia (a lack of motor coordination to write and talk due to cerebral palsy), and attention deficit disorder (ADD), and dyscalculia (difficulties to do appropriate grade-level mathematics).
The teaching methods employed allow for intensified working with each learner.
In six cases, children were sent to go to special schools, or “elsewhere, wherever” but away from mainstream schools. After a year’s exposure to the programme, all six were referred back to the mainstream. They were prepared and were ready for integration.
“Kumon motivates self-study, goal setting against time on a daily basis. The child does work bit by bit, but continuously.”
All children with special needs, she said, is right brain dominant, with a fault line that links the left-brain hemisphere, which is the centre for language development.
Specific learning problems are also often the result of development and dietary regimes.
A study done in Britain in 2006 showed that 72 percent of learning problems are linked to diets; 80 percent of these are linked to lactose in animal-based milk.
Difficulty in language development is again linked to allergies and intolerance to milk: a stuffed nose leads to stuffed ears, which leads to a weak nerve linking to the language areas in the left brain.
The sound system is also closely linked to language development. Learning to read, says Swanepoel, requires 92 percent of hearing the sound that is being read and 8 percent vision.
Hence, people with hearing problems often experience problems in reading and writing.
“Learners seldom read sentences. They read word and complete concepts themselves through visualisation.”
People do not, for example, ‘picture’ words like “is” or “was”. In dyslexia, one would therefore find people ‘cutting out’ words to which they cannot add pictures.
An important addition to the Kumon programme, therefore, is an auditory machine, which filters out dominant frequencies and enhances other frequencies the child might have difficulty hearing.
The auditory system re-trains the auditory nerve, and makes the child more attentive to hearing sounds. According to Swanepoel there is an immediate improvement in spelling and reading.
In Mathematics, children develop the ability to complete tasks within a set period of time. Put differently, they build good working and concentration skills through sustained exercises.
“We always encourage our learners to drink water [considered to be food for the brain]; parents should leave out cow’s milk or any other milk derived from an animal, but instead supplant this with rice milk [which is plant-based],” she advised.
Other dietary tips include rice – often children suffering from dyslexia are put on a rice diet to “clear” the body of excessive mucus – mealie-meal and vegetables. All of which are affordable and in abundance in Namibia.
“Do away with wheat flour and milk,” advises Swanepoel.
Another important aspect is bodily movement, which include symmetrical movements (the same activity to be repeated on left and right side of the body).
Eric Burger who runs the Olympic Kidz programme, says the ventricular system (the system of the ear that regulates balance) should be in harmony, otherwise the child will experience learning difficulties.
Insufficient exposure to movement – read ‘play’ – he said, will have an adverse effect on school-readiness and learning abilities.
Through his programmes, children are encouraged to develop their motor skills, improve their balance, and self-discipline.
Addressing the Hurdles
The Kumon programme, however, is not only for children with special needs.
It encourages children with different aptitudes to deal with work beyond their grades comfortably. It solidifies their basic skills, with progress levels adjusted according to their individual levels.
The educational methods must, therefore, have the depth and breadth to address differences in children. It stimulates children’s natural desire to learn.
A lot of the work children do – everyday, during weekends and holidays included, because schools more often do not have the resources or time to provide individualised education.
Kumon is also based on the premise that obstacles in the learning path must be removed, which usually drastically improves accelerated learning.
The significance of children learning beyond their graves, say Kumon instructors, allow students to do self-study.
But teachers are reported to be apprehensive of children reading ahead of their grades, for apparent fear that children will adopt a ‘know it all’ attitude, and will be emotionally and socially cut off from their peers. Kumon protagonists argue that children seem to show a more mature attitude than feared.
The Kumon programme has been especially successful in dispelling the myths around Mathematics. Its philosophy is that Mathematics is a language on its own, requiring each student to learn at his/her own pace, and given the right circumstances, any student can master Mathematics – masterfully.
The Kumon method, by administering stimuli repeatedly and steadily, is hence very effective in “brain-training”, increasing the transmission of electric signals in the brain – which is the difference between a smart brain and a not-so-smart brain.
Through repeated practicing of the same task, the neurons circuits of the brain are strengthened, and as a result, stimuli are transmitted faster.
With Kumon, says Swanepoel, students do the same material repeatedly until they can find the perfect score in the standard completion time – until solving mathematical and language problems become second nature.
“This is a gift to a child to be a winner; no-one can ever take that away from them,” says Swanepoel.