The golden age for children to learn is up to the age of six, when they are encouraged to develop their full potential HONG KONG PEOPLE'S concept about early childhood education is weak and conservative, and most parents think that it is unnecessary for children to start learning at an early age, said Kumon Hong Kong managing director Kinichiro Yoshida. 'Students in Hong Kong tend to join Kumon centres when they reach Primary Three or Four. 'The reason is that most primary students start experiencing difficulties in their school work and come to Kumon to seek private tuition,' Mr Yoshida said. 'Compared with other Kumon centres in Asia-Pacific - such as Singapore, Thailand and Japan - about a third of the students are from kindergartens.' Mr Yoshida said Kumon would dedicate more effort to help parents in Hong Kong understand more about the benefits of early childhood education and the difference between Kumon methods and traditional tutorial classes. Kumon was established in 1958 in Japan by high school mathematics teacher Toru Kumon. The Kumon method is now used in 44 countries and regions to train students in reading, comprehension and calculation skills. Kumon had more than 3.85 million students worldwide as of September. 'Research shows that up to six years old is the golden age for a child to learn things. Between six and 20 years old they will still be learning, but the progress is not as significant as during the golden age,' Mr Yoshida said. He said it was important for parents to provide children with a good learning environment during the 'golden age'. 'Parents should make good use of this period to develop children's discipline, study habits and abilities. It will be difficult to correct children's weaknesses when they grow up,' he said. 'The earlier a child starts learning, the better - and they will have more free time to develop other potential.' 'If stimulated in the right way, young children will not be able to distinguish between playing and learning - playing will become learning and vice versa,' he said. 'Songs and jigsaw puzzles are some of the educational tools that Kumon uses to stimulate young minds, obliterating the distinction between playing and learning.' The Kumon method, which was devised to develop children's potential through an individual learning system, was not created for the gifted, Mr Yoshida said. 'Recognising that each child is different, the Kumon method enables children to progress and advance at their own pace. 'However, we strongly advocate that children with strong skills should be allowed to advance as much as they are capable of while those who are weaker should take a step back to a point where they can work comfortably, and once they have mastered it, they can move on to the next level,' he said. 'At our centres we have seen students with learning disabilities, such as those suffering from Down's Syndrome, gradually progressing from a low grade to even Form Three or Four level,' he said. 'Day after day they learn how to concentrate and advance to a level that many do not think they are capable of reaching. We believe that every student can grow, yet the progress is different depending on their abilities.' Students are required to visit their Kumon centre every week to study class work. Worksheets are distributed to students to finish at home every day. They are encouraged to cultivate the habit of continuous learning, self-initiation and self-discipline. 'We place priority on enabling all students to begin their study at a level appropriate to their abilities, regardless of age,' Mr Yoshida said. 'When they are able to move ahead of their grade level and experience success, their self-assuredness and self-esteem will grow.' Mr Yoshida believed that daily practice was important and should be developed into a lifelong habit. 'The true benefits of the Kumon method are realised only through a long-term commitment,' he said.