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Most tutorial centers are set up near schools. To get ahead, Ahead Learning Systems broke away from the pack and put up review clinics in the malls to be more accessible to clients. It also attracted the best teachers. Then it simulated exams to prepare its students for all the tests they needed to pass.
November 2003 Issue
By Aireen B. Laserna

You need good teachers to produce excellent students,” says Rossana Llenado, 34, owner of Ahead Learning Systems.

Working on this premise, she started a tutorial service at home and quickly turned it into a chain of successful review and tutorial centers. Now she has outlets in Katipunan, Quezon City, Greenhills and Robinsons at the Ortigas Center, and SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City. Students from as far away as Zamboanga troop to Manila to enroll in her courses.

Llenado was a full-time wife and mother when she started her venture in 1995. Next, she decided to open a branch of the Los Baños, Laguna-based Brain Train Tutorial Review Center, which in 1991 had pioneered in college entrance test reviews. Its success led her to organize her own tutorial and review center with a more unique setup. For six months, she brainstormed with four teachers and conceptualized the courseware for the University of the Philippines College Admission Test entrance review. “We were on a shifting schedule, and I was only getting three hours sleep at the time to produce the courseware,” she says.

Education Hub

In 1997, Ahead Tutorial and Review Center, the forerunner of Ahead Learning Systems Inc., officially opened in Kapitolyo, Pasig. A three-man team including Llenado ran it, and eventually it became the industry leader in just two years. “At the time, most review centers were offering the standard college entrance test, but we were the first one to offer a review course aimed for UPCAT,” she says. Ahead’s success became obvious when it scored the highest passing rate of all enrollees for UPCAT. As a result, Llenado worked next on the Ateneo de Manila University and Dela Salle University’s college entrance exams.

Ahead also offered review classes in schools to enhance students’ learning capabilities. Llenado started with La Salle Greenhills students, and those who took up tutorials with them got better grades. “Before, tutorials were associated with flunkers and slow learners, so we worked on changing this attitude by promoting tutorials as the thing for students to get high grades,” she says. “Now it’s the class leaders and top students who engage our services.”

Llenado picked the best and youngest teachers for her classes. “I recruited the cum laude and magna cum laude graduates of the top universities and convinced them to serve for a few years as teachers,” she says. For one-on-one tutorials, Ahead matches students with the tutors they’re likely to be most compatible with to make them learn better and faster. “We have former students who drop by the learning center just to say hi to their teachers,” Llenado says.

Still, Ahead’s main objective is to offer the best programs, instructors, facilities and resources. Other learning centers offer courses for as low as P3,000, but Ahead charges as much as P7,000. “We believe that we offer a much reasonable price because we go for quality in each of our courses,” says Llenado. “We have never sacrificed quality in our services, and this has contributed much to our success.”

Ahead of Everyone

Ahead was the first center to focus on review courses–not tutorials–and the first to use diagnostic and simulated exams in its reviews. “We were the first to use diagnostic and simulated exams in its reviews. We were also the first and only review center to publish a passers’ list,” says Llenado. “Eighty-five percent of our students pass the college entrance exams of UP, La Salle and Ateneo.”

Its success with review and tutorial courses led Ahead to offer language teaching and human resource training. In 1998, it began publishing review books on entrance exams and guides to topping proficiency tests.

The driving force behind Ahead, Llenado is a hands-on manager involved in operations, recruitment, marketing and training. She finished mass communications at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, and now she plans to take up a master’s degree in education administration to boost her administrative skills.

Ahead now provides scholarships to poor but deserving students. “We take in 40 scholars endorsed by the different public schools in Metro Manila,” Llenado says. She plans eventually to put up an educational foundation. “I plan to pursue it before I turn forty,” she says.
She has six years to do it.

AHEAD OF THE PACK

How Ahead Learning Systems reached the top:

• It used diagnostic and simulated exams. To gauge the student’s progress during the course review, Ahead introduced these tests to prepare students for the actual exams.

• It published reviewers and career guides. Ahead was the first to publish a review book for the University of the Philippines College Admission Test. It also co-published a reference manual providing information on 10 of Metro Manila’s finest colleges and universities. It plans to publish more books soon.

• It started training students on the most effective test-taking techniques. Ahead students learn things like preparing for difficult questions and coping with time pressure, among other things. These techniques are particularly crucial to those taking standardized exams, which are much different from the classroom setup most students are familiar with.

• It disabused people of the belief tutorial reviews are only for flunkers and slow learners. Now Ahead draws the top students to enroll in its classes to stay on top.

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