A local elementary school is not the primary place of study for 11-year-old Risa Hishinuma of Tokyo’s Taito Ward.

The public school lessons are too easy for her: In addition to going to a “juku” cram school, she takes advanced lessons from a private tutor in preparation for next year’s tough entrance exam for a private junior high school. Her mother, Naoko, had a contract with a tutor-dispatching company last summer “to let her learn what she doesn’t understand at the juku.” Risa says she is studying so hard “because private school is better than public.”

The Hishinumas pay a whopping 180,000 yen a month to the firm sending the professional tutor, who teaches Japanese and algebra twice a week for two hours each session. Private tutors for elementary school children like Risa are still a rarity, and there are contradicting signs over the future of tutor-dispatching businesses.

But industry watchers see potential demand rising for such customized teaching. Dissatisfaction with group learning, cut-throat competition for prestigious schools and other factors are considered the driving force. Private tutors include professionals and university students. They are also available through university bulletin boards and the like, without involving profit-seeking intermediaries.

An Education Ministry survey in 1993 showed that 0.9 percent of elementary school children and 4.8 percent of junior high school pupils were being taught by private tutors. In comparison, cram schools offered lessons to 24 percent of elementary school children and 60 percent of junior high school children, according to the same survey. At a lower cost than a private tutor, the cram schools usually serve more than one student, after school, or on weekends. Even for those hiring a tutor, Hishinuma’s case seems exceptional: it can cost well under 100,000 yen monthly, depending on the tutor’s qualifications, the intermediary firm and the number of lessons per week. In any case, education costs are a heavy financial burden on many Japanese parents. In fiscal 1994, parents on average spent 215,000 yen per child at public elementary school for extra-curriculum education, in addition to 59,000 yen for costs needed for regular school lessons.

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