When he came to Yale from Japan in 2010, Kenta Koga ’14 had never heard of summer camp. Hearing his friends talk about their experiences there, he was confused but intrigued. In 2011, he decided to open Gakko, his own summer camp in Okayama, Japan.

As he watched his project grow — and its acceptance rate sink lower than Yale’s — Koga decided to turn his small company into a full-fledged academic experience, with campuses in Okayama and New York City. This year, for the first time, high school students will have the chance to study music or computer science with a curriculum based on Koga’s unique approach to education.

“There are four pillars of education,” he said of his educational philosophy. “Learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together.”

He explained that learning to know — which he said traditional education, including the Yale curriculum, overemphasizes — involves learning basic facts and skills. Learning to do, Koga said, describes the ability to “make one’s ideas come to life,” and learning to be highlights the need for mindfulness and self-fulfillment. The last pillar, learning to live together, involves recognizing similarities “in a world of differences,” he added.

According to Koga, the latter three pillars are missing from the standard education students receive in America and Japan. Gakko, he said, strives to bridge this educational gap. In particular, the summer camps and intensive sessions focus on creativity and real-world applications, rather than only theory, in an attempt to teach students “to do,” not just “to know.”

“Our mission is to help students prepare for their future success by becoming active participants in their own learning process,” a description on Gakko’s website states. “Gakko wants to create a worldwide community of learners, fully engaged in creative and inspiring experiences that spark curiosity, foster genuine understanding and encourage entrepreneurial spirit.”

This summer, high school students will have the opportunity to enroll in one of two programs offered in New York City. One focuses on technology and app design, while the other focuses on music recording and production. Tuition for both programs stands at $1,980 per student.

Koga and his team are currently designing similar courses to run during the school year in New York City.

The way in which Koga became involved with science is just as unconventional as his approach to education. A prospective theater major turned computer scientist, Koga initially found his love for critical thinking and experience design in an unexpected place: magic tricks.

“Magic is about experience design,” Koga told the News. “You are curating an experience for an audience and that process of curation requires a lot of design thinking. In order for that experience to translate into audiences being inspired, you have to design that experience.”

Lindsey Maite, a former student at Gakko, said the program provided a unique learning environment distinct from a traditional classroom and added that she appreciated the carefully constructed classes and her instructors’ passion.

“There was so much passion behind what Senpai showed me,” she said. “[There was] so much love that they shared with their teachings.”

Dadam Koczoski, another former student, agreed, describing Gakko as “an immensely creative safe space where you can be unapologetically vulnerable.”

In fact, Koga said, part of the inspiration for Gakko came from his mixed feelings about the education he received in high school and at Yale. While he appreciated what he described as a unique social environment conducive to personal growth at Yale, he said, he questioned the structure of certain courses he took. He recalled that many students appeared distracted during lectures, and he challenged the idea that “putting accomplished researchers and students in a classroom” will naturally lead to a meaningful learning experience. Rather, he said, these experiences need to be thoughtfully constructed, like a magic trick.

Eric Hirsch ’21, a prospective economics and mathematics major at Yale, said that while he understood Koga’s critique, he disagreed with him on the importance of coursework.

“Through memorization, dedication and hard work, we have the opportunity to develop qualities and skills that make us stronger both as students and as people,” he said.

Gakko means “school” in Japanese.

Niki Anderson | niki.anderson@yale.edu

Lorenzo Arvanitis | lorenzo.arvanitis@yale.edu