Home study service “Ie-Sta!*” supported by Epson printers and services

*Ie-Sta!…Ie means home in Japanese, Sta comes from study

The following is the online interview with Mr. Shoji Matsumoto, the representative of Gakushu-sha Si-On (referred to below as Si-On) along with Motoaki Hara from the P Strategic Planning Department, Seiko Epson Corporation (referred to below as Epson)

A cram school business to help students struggling with their studies

Si-On operates three private tutoring schools in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture. Mr. Shoji Matsumoto, the representative, opened Si-On in 2004 after working as an elementary school teacher for 12 years. In addition to study support classes, Si-On offers robotics classes, programming courses, and online English conversation lessons at their schools. About 150 students attend the school. The school’s system, which allows students to select their class schedules freely, is popular with the local community.

Si-On offers individualized teaching by original video classes and a worksheet study system that is provided by an educational service company. The students watch video classes prepared by Mr. Matsumoto and then answer worksheets that match their learning level. Si-On’s uniqueness shines in their worksheets, which are created and selected by Mr. Matsumoto and the instructor team. Mr. Matsumoto says, “We have three years’ worth of video ready for English and math classes.”

Mr. Shoji Matsumoto, Representative of Private tutoring school Sion
Mr. Shoji Matsumoto, Representative of Private tutoring school Sion

The home study service Ie-Sta! was launched in November 2019. Mr. Matsumoto had the vision of starting a home study service from when he first opened the private tutoring school. He felt that commuting to the school restricted schedules and limited the amount of study support that the school could give to students. “There are many children who are struggling with their studies. We wanted to do something to help them.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

Creating an ideal home study service with Epson printers and services

Mr. Matsumoto’s ideal home study service would allow students studying at home to receive the same individualized teaching provided to students studying at the school. To achieve this, he had to build a system that could provide services with as little human intervention as possible.

He first considered using online communication tools, but this meant students would have to prepare the necessary environment, including computers and accounts. There were too many obstacles, so he gave up on that idea. He also looked into sending PDF versions of worksheets by email, but this was not a viable option as it would be difficult for students to print the worksheets by themselves and would create extra work for parents. “Both methods couldn’t even be considered in the first place unless the family owned a printer.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

Some private tutoring schools adopt learning methods using fax machines, but this method was passed over since the communication fees were too expensive. Mr. Matsumoto experimented with taking photos of worksheets for students to receive and submit using social media tools. This method was unsuccessful because it created a burden for both the students and instructors, and more importantly, the photographed worksheets were difficult to read.

Creating an ideal home study service with Epson printers and services

Mr. Matsumoto wanted to start a home study service but was having trouble finding a suitable system. He encountered an Epson printer and decided to purchase it, which he needed for a cloud service linking a computer with a printer. He learned that by using the Epson mobile cloud solution “Epson Connect” and a printer, he could design the home study service he envisioned.

Zero school commute to ensure the safety of students while expanding the schools’ target area

A system was built with Epson printers and services, and after a monitoring period of about six months, the full-fledged home study service named Ie-Sta! was launched in November 2019.

In the Ie-Sta! service, an Epson printer is provided to each student’s home free of charge. Students study by the following steps: (1) Worksheets sent from the school are automatically printed by the printer at the student’s home. (2) The student returns the completed worksheet using the printer’s scanner function. (3) The instructor grades and analyzes the student’s answers and re-sends a worksheet composed of questions similar to those answered incorrectly. (4) The student works on the automatically printed worksheet, which helps them master their weak areas.

Ie-Sta! has two advantages for students and parents. First, it reduces the burden of commuting to the cram school. Parents no longer have to drop off or pick up their children, and students don’t have to walk home by themselves. “Having junior high school students commute to private tutoring school by themselves late at night is worrisome for parents as well as for the school. Ie-Sta! eliminates those worries.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

Another advantage is that students are not restricted to set timeframes and can study whenever it suits their daily routines. That said, some students cannot focus on their studies at home, so it is necessary to devise methods to keep them motivated. Mr. Matsumoto says, “We respond to requests from students and parents who want to come to the private tutoring school even once a week to have their studies looked at.” The instructors cannot see their students’ faces with Ie-Sta!, so they also try to stay in close contact.

This system is advantageous to the school as well, as the target client area can be expanded. With Ie-Sta!, there is no need to commute, so the school can reach students from a larger area beyond the school district.

Epson printers, not just a printing device but also a powerful communication tool

Mr. Matsumoto says of the Epson printer adopted for the Ie-Sta! system, “It’s great that it can be used independently without needing to connect directly to a computer.” “The printers are distributed after the school registers the settings, and the only thing that needs to be done to use at the student’s home is connecting to a Wi-Fi network. We’ve already distributed around 40 units, and the only inquiry we’ve had from parents was one question about the Wi-Fi network connection.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

He was also very impressed that users can monitor the operation status of printers registered to Epson Connect. “In addition to being able to confirm whether the worksheet sent to the student has been printed with the home printer, we receive email notifications for paper jams and when the printer has run out of paper or ink, so we can notify the parents.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

Epson printers, not just a printing device but also a powerful communication tool

The Epson products and services made operation easy for students and parents and enabled the school to easily manage the printers, setting Ie-Sta! on track for success. “I don’t think a printer is a device just for printing. If we think of it as a communication tool, there are more possibilities to utilize it,” says Mr. Matsumoto.

Motoaki Hara from Epson heard about Si-On’s Ie-Sta! system and contacted Mr. Matsumoto to talk to him. “As an employee of the company that provides the printer, I was very interested in the paper-based studying style. We were in the midst of a demonstration experiment on remote learning, so I spontaneously took the opportunity to talk to Mr. Matsumoto.” (Hara)

Motoaki Hara, Seiko Epson Corporation
Motoaki Hara, Seiko Epson Corporation

While Hara could see the emerging positive effects of education using tablets and other devices, at the same time he was concerned whether the beneficial aspects of traditional learning, such as retention of memory through writing, might be diminished. In this context, hearing Mr. Matsumoto’s view that “Paper-based studying is meaningful, because we can see the learning process of students from hints such as calculations written in the margins,” was an enlightening experience for Hara.

Overcoming the COVID-19 crisis by distributing printers to students free of charge

With the COVID-19 outbreak, inquiries about Ie-Sta! increased, with several coming from prefectures outside Kagawa, including Hyogo and Kanagawa.

From March to May 2020, all elementary, junior high, and senior high schools in Japan were closed as a precaution against COVID-19. The private tutoring schools operated by Si-On were also forced to close.

“We wanted to make sure the students didn’t neglect their studies, and we couldn’t charge them tuition fees when they weren’t attending the school. We decided to utilize the know-how gained through Ie-Sta!, distributing Epson printers to the students so they could continue their studies by the same method as Ie-Sta!.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

The students continued studying using the printers that were distributed to their homes while the school was closed. After reopening, the printers were collected from the families if they no longer needed them. If they wanted to keep using the printer, they could continue the same studying style by paying a fee.

“When our school finally reopened, most parents opted to continue using the printer. I’m sure they found the printer useful for home studying. By having the printer at home, more parents decided it would be easier for their children if they didn’t have to commute.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

About a year and a half has passed since the launch of Ie-Sta!, and the effect on learning is becoming apparent. Some students who commuted to the school had limited time to complete their assignments, but with home studying, they have plenty of time to work on the questions. By using the worksheets sent each day, students were able to make a habit of studying regularly. As a result, their academic performance has improved. In addition, all Si-On students who took high school entrance exams in 2021 passed their first choice. This is also one of the positive outcomes of home studying, including Ie-Sta!.

Hoping to expand Ie-Sta! with other private tutoring schools around the country providing home study services

When asked about the future of Si-On, Mr. Matsumoto answered, “We certainly want to continue supporting the studies of local children.” In addition, he mentioned his plan to use Ie-Sta! and Epson printers and services to actively support educationally vulnerable children.

“Ie-Sta! can help children who are unable to study even if they want to, such as those with long-term school absences, children hospitalized for long periods, or those who live in rural areas like remote islands where educational disparities occur. I want to help these children in any way I can.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

He is also thinking of expanding Ie-Sta! together with other private tutoring schools that offer home study services similar to Si-On.
“Entrance exam policies vary by region, and even with home study services, guidance counseling and in-person support are still necessary. If we could offer services in cooperation with local private tutoring schools, we’d be able to provide our services to customers who apply for Ie-Sta! through Si-On from distant locations. I’m hoping to create such a system together with private tutoring schools that share our vision.” (Mr. Matsumoto)

Hoping to expand Ie-Sta! with other private tutoring schools around the country providing home study services

Mr. Matsumoto’s ambition to support children through remote learning continues to expand.

*For more about Ie-Sta!: https://g-sion.net/?page_id=1078
*For more about Epson Connect: http://www.epsonconnect.com/
(Japanese only)

Interview: April 2021