Most Chinese parents outside Shanghai were unaware of the Kuno Method before May 24, when domestic media attempted to shame the nine-year-old Japanese education agency for operating without a license.
Not only did that report fail to drive Kuno Method out of business, but the company has seen a spike in parents competing for its limited seating.
“I don’t care if Kuno Method is an unlicensed agency. I just want it to help my kids get into a named elementary school,” a parent who would not be named told Online.sh.cn.
Founded in Japan, Kuno Method is an education training agency that develops children’s mental abilities. Since its expansion to Shanghai in 2007, Kuno Method has been praised by young parents who hope to send their children to a high-ranked elementary school. The company claims many of its trainees are admitted to famous Shanghai elementary schools each year.
Kuno Method opened to summer enrollment on May 25. To fight for one of the limited positions, some parents brought quilts and spent the night on the street outside to be first in line on May 24.
Li, who has a 4-year-old daughter, began learning how to get her enrolled in March. Kuno Method’s official WeChat announced summer enrollment would begin at 8 pm on May 24. When Li hurried to Kuno Method, he found there were already 237 people in line ahead of him.
“Kuno Method’s classes are cheap and good. But there only a few dozen positions for students,” Li told Netease news.
The people immediately ahead of and behind Li were both food delivery agents. Ticket scalpers were charging 5,000 yuan to help wait in line for one night.
Shanghai education authorities have announced an ongoing investigation into Kuno Method, and the company’s director has been asked to meet officers from the Shanghai Bureau of Education.
But that licensing quandary has done nothing to deter parents, and the school’s classes remain as popular as ever. A clerk for the company told ThePaper.cn that Kuno Method is opening a new school in Yangpu later this year.
But few parents are familiar with what their children will learn at Kuno Method’s school. In addition to concerns that their child will lag behind, ‘school reputation’ may be another reason for Kuno Method’s high popularity.
Zhao, a mother whose son will attend Kuno Method, said she decided to enroll him after viewing some posts on early education forums. Another mother surnamed Jiang said the Shanghai has few options for early education, and she chose Kuno Method after she missed the pre-enrollment window for another school.
“Parents are relying heavily on parenting information available online,” said Li, a father in line to enroll his child. “We can never tell whether it’s true or false.”
While many parents choosing to enroll their children in Kuno Method are merely following the trend, others are choosing the school for its teaching content.
“It’s difficult for kids to follow classes in public elementary schools. Kuno Method can give them a head start on math, discipline and language,” said Qin Yi (pseudonym), a mother familiar with the school’s class content.
“They give you a sheet that clearly indicates the scores your children received and why,” Qin says. On that sheet her son received an “A-” on “clearly distinguishes left and right hand” and got an A on “able to play with a ball based on given orders.”
Wu Ping’s (pseudonym) daughter has attended Kuno Method since she became eligible. The school offers a mock test for students before their official elementary school enrollment interview.
“The agency will also train students on interview manner, attire, speaking tone and rhythm,” Wu said. There are even small interview classes aimed at certain famous elementary schools in Shanghai, such as Yifu Elementary School and Shanghai Experimental School.
Since Kuno Method’s licensing status became known, Shanghai education authorities have developed a system to check education agency’s licensing, diploma certification and qualifications, Netease news reported.
The elementary enrollment craze is similar in Beijing, where parents must spend as much as 300,000 yuan in sponsorship fees to secure enrollment in a well-known school, Sina reported. Children also must enroll in training classes such as English, dance, painting and ice hockey to increase their chance of enrollment.
But education and psychology experts say training students so hard from an early age might have a negative impact on their life.
“I can only say it’s a tragedy to see a child grow up that way,” said psychologist Liu Yanhua. Liu said the children might feel increasing tension and anxiety in their growth.
Huang Zheng, council member from the China National Society of Early Childhood Education, also has a negative attitude toward the current exam-oriented early education. Huang said the system is a result of parents projecting their own anxiety over their children’s future.
“I think it’s wrong to link famous schools with quality education. If parents think that, it means they know nothing about education,” Huang said. Huang said good early education depends on the family atmosphere.
“I advise parents not to put all their eggs in one basket when choosing an education agency. This is about how to foster your children’s growth, not a bum rush on cheap goods at the supermarket,” Huang said.