Cram school in public junior high gets metro nod

by Akemi Nakamura

The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education said Thursday that an expensive cram school for elite students that critics say will create inequalities in education can open at a public junior high school in Suginami Ward.

The one-year school, called Yoru Supe (Night Special), is generating controversy for targeting top-level students at Wada Junior High School who want to ace their high school entrance exams.

Chiiki Honbu (Local Headquarters), a volunteer group of about 100 aspiring teachers and parents whose children graduated from Wada Junior High, will run the school, which will offer math and Japanese on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights and English on Saturday afternoons on Wada’s campus.

Because teachers from the Sapix chain of cram schools teach the classes, monthly tuition at Yoru Supe is ¥18,000 or ¥24,000, depending on the number of subjects each participant signs up for.

Public schools that offer extracurricular classes using cram school teachers usually charge nothing and are open to a wider range of students.

The board of education released a statement saying it determined the program doesn’t violate any education-related laws and is not inappropriate in terms of using a public facility.

But the board also told the Suginami board of education to give parents a thorough explanation of the program.

On Jan. 7, the Tokyo board questioned whether Yoru Supe’s high fees violate a key principle of public education that educational opportunities should be equally available.

It was also concerned that Sapix may profit from a cram school operated on a public campus and that cooperation between Wada and Sapix teachers on study materials could pose a conflict for civil servants, who are not to split duties with private companies.

Due to the concerns, Chiiki Honbu postponed the start of Yoru Supe from Jan. 9 to this Saturday.

On Wednesday, the Suginami board of education told the Tokyo board in a statement that it will ask Chiiki Honbu to take measures allowing students from low-income families to participate and that it has made sure Sapix will not profit from the arrangement. In addition, it said Wada’s teachers will advise Sapix on study materials for free and will not work on the project during regular work hours.