by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat, Manila Bulletin, June 2004
President, AHEAD Learning Systems, Inc.
“All intelligent people have the responsibility to teach because if all teachers are intelligent there are more chances of producing better students.”
By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Several factors are affecting the Filipino student from attaining his full potential. One of these is the declining quality of our teachers. As many of us would say, gone are the days of the best and intelligent teachers whom we always looked up to as our heroes.
This is the crusade of Rossana Ladaga Llenado, president of the country’s biggest tutorial service and review center – AHEAD Learning Systems, Inc., to improve the lot of our teachers.
A FOUNDATION FOR TEACHERS
“When I was in college, I took up Communication Arts because I wanted to become a lawyer,” she narrated.
But when she was asked to write a graduation speech to be delivered by then Senator Alberto Romulo she was affected. She saw the significance of the role of teachers in molding the youth.
“I saw them as heroes,” she realized. From then on there was no turning back for Rossana to help.
At a very young age she has trained her eyes towards creating a foundation for teachers at the age of 40 despite the fact that she does not come from a well-to-do family.
Rossana noted that when a student is just average or even less than average in his academic standing, the common recommendation is for him to take up education. But when a student is at the top of her class, he or she is encouraged to take up medicine or law.
Now, what she wants to do is put the teachers back to where they originally belonged – on a high pedestal.
To do this, the former student leader at UP said “we should produce the best teachers so we will produce the best lawyers, and the best doctors and later intelligent voters.”
“The goal pushed me every day,” she said.
Little by little, Rossana’s dream naturally unfolded.
Rossana has realized that all the schools before have the same standards because “we have a better system then but now schools have turned out to be commercial, even UP.”
Getting into college has also become a very competitive process, thus, the need for tutorials and review classes came up to help a student pass the entrance exam.
So, she decided to put up a home-based tutorial services called AHEAD Tutorial and Review Center for students and a review class for high school students aiming to pass the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT). She started with 16 UP hopefuls.
Rossana was among the tutors then together with a summa cum laude and three cum laudes from UP conducting the tutorial and review classes.
Based on that first UPCAT review, AHEAD developed the Ateneo entrance test review followed by the review programs for La Salle hopefuls.
With its test-based review programs, which is tailored to the unique requirements of each accrediting university as against the generic curriculum-based methods, AHEAD has consistently registered the highest passing percentage (89%) in the entrance exams to the country’s top three universities.
“It used to be higher but since we got reviewers from remote areas like Bicol, Davao and Sultan Kudarat, our average has been slightly affected,” she said.
AHEAD is also the only review center for college entrance tests that publishes their passers regularly. So, their records can be checked for authenticity.
AHEAD’s services fall into three main categories: (1) review classes for the school admission tests and professional examinations; 2) tutorials for all subjects and ages, from preschool to the graduate level; and 3) languages, including translation, reading, writing and speaking of foreign languages.
From that home-based review and tutorial classes, AHEAD now has four review centers located in Katipunan, Megamall, Galleria and Greenhills. Each class has 40 reviewees. They offer different packages for reviewees depending on their preferences. The fee ranges from P4,000 to P15,000 depending on the length of classes or tutorials needed.
Aside from college entrance test reviews, AHEAD also offers classes for foreign languages. Rossana said the company is going for franchise arrangements but on a case-to-case basis as she wants to ensure the quality of their reviews. She noted that other businesses fold up because of their inability to control their franchisees. “I am not after money because there are plenty of moneyed people eager to get a franchise from us. What is important is I can get a partner with the same values and views on education as I have,” she said.
“We are looking for partners, not just franchisees,” she said. “I want to be assured that my partners have only the intention to help students and not just to earn money from them,” she said. There is no problem with money for our partners because Rossana can help them in getting their loans approved. “We have to expand this year or next year,” she said. AHEAD is planning on diversifying their offers by also going into the mainstream market offering reviews for board exams for engineers, teachers and nurses. AHEAD also mulls conducting reviews for international standardized tests such as TOEFL, GMAT, etc. Rossana is also training her eyes toward a greater goal, that of opening up branches abroad particularly in China. While others may laugh off Rossana’s ambitions, this mother of four wonderful children always chooses to travel the road less traveled. “When I proposed the idea of opening up a review class inside a mall, I was rebuffed because that could not be possible, but here I am,” the visionary said.
ESTABLISHING INSTANT CONNECTIONS
While it is true that lecturers for review centers and tutors come and go and the fact is it is difficult to find good ones, Rossana believes there is a career here in tutorials and review classes. According to Rossana, statistics have shown that only 10 percent of the UPCAT’s 100,000 hopefuls passed the entrance tests and only 7 percent of the 60,000 to 70,000 hopeful students for the two other top schools passed these college entrance exams. At one time or another, AHEAD has been designated as the official review center of the country’s top learning institutions. Passing the college entrance tests for the top three schools may be insignificant for others but this matters a lot to insightful people. For Rossana, “It determines what you will be in the future. It means sure employment and instant connections.”
Rossana explained that one of the better assurances a parent can give his child is the privilege of giving him the right connections for his future endeavors. It is no secret that most students from the country’s top three schools belong to the well-connected circles of society. When a graduate goes into business, his first contacts are his classmates. Thus, every parent wants his kid to go to the best school. Rossana recalled that while she came from a poor family, her only consolation is that she is a graduate of UP. It made a difference to Rossana that she graduated from UP. Education is really a great equalizer.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Rossana believes that there are no really all-the-way dim-witted students, but only students with attitude problems and learning skills difficulty. AHEAD, she said, is providing its reviewees with the best teachers. All in all, AHEAD has 300 teachers with over 35 working on full-time basis. Their lecturers are either summa cum laude, magna or cum laude and top ten topnotchers in the board exams from the country’s top three universities. Ninety percent are from UP. “I am the least gifted at AHEAD,” she laughed. To ensure that reviewees get their money’s worth, AHEAD reviewees evaluate their teachers regularly and if the grades are below 90 then they are out of AHEAD. As far as Rossana is concerned, all intelligent people have the responsibility to teach because if all teachers are intelligent there are more chances of producing better students. That’s why Rossana has encouraged AHEAD teachers to find time to share their knowledge. Since only students of well-to-do families can afford to pay for tutorials and review classes, which Rossana said is the greatest injustice in our system, AHEAD offers free review classes to public schools. The successful reviewees from the public schools end up being scholars of the country’s top three schools while others are being sponsored by some organizations.
HELPING WHILE STILL YOUNG
Rossana, no doubt is enjoying her work. “Where can you find a job while still young you are already helping other people. Ang sarap-sarap pakinggan yung ‘thank you’ from people whom we have helped passed the exams,” she said. Aside from review centers and tutorials, Rossana has also put up a preschool. It is called “World Prep” because it is preparing the kids for the real world, she said. Rossana is pursuing an MA in Education Administration to make her more suitable to the task at hand. Because of her worthy endeavors, Rossana was a Philam Life “Ilaw ng Karunungan” awardee for genuine commitment to serve the community in promoting education to improve the quality of Filipino lives. She was among the Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 10 Entrepreneurs of the Philippines 2003. Rossana was also a recipient of the Asia Pacific Young Professional Award for education. In the case of AHEAD, this institution of learning has been named the “Most Outstanding Tutorial and Review Center” and “Most Outstanding Learning Center” by three national consumer groups. Although the dream to become a lawyer still remains a burning ambition for Rossana, this has to give way to a more noble desire to help students realize their own dream.