By Austin Zeng
Nestled in a little building just outside Komaba campus is Tōdai Muryōjuku (translated loosely, the University of Tokyo Free Cram School). While created to serve students of the surrounding high schools, it will unfortunately be closing in the March of 2014.
Tōdai Muryōjuku was originally created in June 2013 to allow students from the surrounding high schools to gather to use the space to study freely. It also provided lectures given by student volunteers from the University of Tokyo. I myself was involved in teaching English once a week. Lessons were largely focused on high school examination subjections. However, aside from just “cramming”, a significant proportion of the classes are on subjects outside the normal high school curriculum – how to read Classical Chinese classics without a Japanese annotation for example. And as the name suggests, the organization provides these free of charge.
Tōdai Muryōjuku was created in June 2013 by a group of University of Tokyo freshmen, of which the current leader is Tatsuki Yamahara. He explains that there were two reasons for his starting the Tōdai Muryōjuku. Firstly, when he was a high school student himself, “[he] felt that there was no place of learning where [he] really felt that he was growing and being motivated”. Furthermore, after entering university, “given that there was no place for us to do Project Based Learning which could contribute to wider society,” he felt the need to start one himself.
The response from high school students going to Tōdai Muryōjuku has been positive – Tatsuki says that many students have commented that the tutors at Tōdai Muryōjuku are enthusiastic and patient with answering their questions and that students find that “[because the tutors] teach based on their own experience, the information conveyed to [them] is rich and useful.”
However, Tatsuki states that the operation of Tōdai Muryōjuku has no longer become feasible. He cites the monetary costs and human costs as the two main factors. Tōdai Muryōjuku, as any other organization with a physical presence, has to pay for utility bills, rent etc . Furthermore, the burden of supporting the organization was extremely heavy on the student volunteers who were contributing. He feels that while there certainly has been some positive impact, the amount that Tōdai Muryōjuku was contributing to society was not sufficient to justify continuing Tōdai Muryōjuku. Tatsuki also says that as the leader, he accepts responsibility for the closing of Tōdai Muryōjuku and greatly underestimated the challenges of operating such an organization.
Moving on to the future, Tatsuki says that after March, they will no longer be able to provide a study space or hold lessons, they plan to continue support for the current students that they have through setting up an email account to which students can send their questions. While Tōdai Muryōjuku will no longer be a legal entity, it will still be an informal organization in which members can interact with each other as well as assist the high school students who want help.
Austin is a first-year student at the University of Tokyo.