How a mother helped tutor 100,000 students

A woman entrepreneur, who started tutorial services in Laguna province 22 years ago, has empowered more than 100,000 Filipino students to get ahead in life and is now on a mission to establish a global education company.

Rossana Llenado, who funded her studies at University of the Philippines-Los Baños by working as a student assistant and selling T-shirts and various merchandise, became one of the youngest female company owners in 1995, when she formed Ahead Learning Systems Inc.

From a home-based tutorial center, Ahead has become the leading and most awarded educational services provider in the Philippines. The company caters to both students and professionals through the following brands: Ahead Tutorial & Review Center, Ahead Professional Network, Ahead Books & Things and Ahead Online.

“We were the first in the Philippines to offer UP, Ateneo, La Salle entrance test review,” Llenado says in an interview in Makati City.

She says students and parents have come to embrace tutorial services as a part of the education system.  “Before, parents didn’t want anybody to know they were sending their children to tutorial centers.  Now, it is a lifestyle.  It is a way to be ahead,” says Llenado.

Among those who attended Ahead centers are students who graduated summa cum laude at top universities or valedictorian in high schools.  “Yes, even those running for valedictorian and salutatorian approach us for tutorial services,” she says.

“Tutorial makes a lot of difference.  In a typical classroom of 40 students, the teacher gets to teach the average student. If the teacher focuses on the least intelligent, other students will be bored.  If she focuses on the top student, others will be left behind.  So she gets to teach the average one, but the other groups of students—the most intelligent and the least intelligent—are both dissatisfied.  In our tutorial services, it is one tutor for one student for one hour,” she says.

TUTOR. Ahead Learning Systems Inc. president Rossana Llenado

Llenado says education is the best investment parents can make for their children.  “If you love your children and want them to be ahead in life, this is the right investment.  If you are a forward looking and modern parent, you would want your children to be ahead.  It also gives them a head start to get into the best universities,” she says.

Before becoming an educator, Llenado studied Communication Arts at UP Los Baños and wanted to become a lawyer.  Being the eldest among three children, she worked and ventured into various livelihood activities, such as T-shirt printing for  UP Los Baños and UP Diliman students, mushroom growing, catering and even commercial subleasing, to supplement the earnings of her father, who is an electronics technician.

She was also active in extra-curricular activities, being a member or official of eight student organizations, a staff member of UPLB Perspective and a member of the UPLB varsity football team.

“Handling multiple tasks in school prepared me for the challenges of being an entrepreneur,” she says.  

Llenado says being an educator was the furthest thing from her mind, because she thought teachers should look formal, perfect and kind at all times, while she enjoyed wearing jeans and T-shirts in school.

She says when she was 18, an uncle who was writing a graduation speech for a senator asked her to do a research on the subject.  “That’s when I realized the impact of education on the lives of the people.  I think education can improve the Philippines,” she says.

After graduating from UPLB in 1991, she worked as a staff writer and researcher for public relations company Corporate Image Dimensions for one year, before joining Mijadikan Properties as a real estate broker.  She met her husband in the company and became its top sales manager with over 200 agents under her until she resigned in 1994 when she gave birth to twin boys, Nicolo and Paolo, followed by Darla and Megan.

She was only 25 when she established Ahead.  She recalls that she had to wear formal clothes and eyeglasses to look older when meeting clients.  “When clients were visiting our office, they thought I was the daughter of the owner.  That’s why I tried to look older,” says Llenado who still looks younger than her age of 48 today.

While taking care of her kids, she put up a tutorial center at home near a private school and hired a teacher-friend as the first tutor.  This would be the start of her tutorial and review business that would reach its peak before the K to 12 program was adopted in the country. She says the business flourished because of word-of-mouth recommendation from principals, teachers, parents and students themselves.

To hone her managerial skills, Llenado pursued postgraduate studies at the Ateneo de Manila University and the Asian Institute of Management. In 2009, she received the Alumni Achiever award from UP Rural High School, the laboratory school of UP Los Baños.  The following year, she was recognized as an outstanding alumna of UPLB for her exceptional community extension service.

Llenado wants to reach out to more students by taking advantage of digital technologies.  Her company has recently launched Ahead Online—an online learning arm that offers flexible and high-quality tutorial and review services to students and professionals.

It offers an interactive mode of teaching using audio, video, whiteboard and file-sharing components. The one-on-one online tutorial service was launched early this year and currently has 30 students. Tutorial rates start at P1,000 per hour.

Llenado says she expects more students to enroll in the next few months as she continues to receive inquiries from parents who want the best tutorial service for their children. 

“In regular tutorials, you are supposed to allow a stranger to enter your house. In online tutorials, the students enjoy the safety of their own home. It’s also more convenient than going to a tutorial center since the students will not have to drive to the center amid heavy traffic. It saves a lot of time, energy and money,” she says.

Llenado has been getting inquiries for online tutorial since 2007.  But she hesitated from offering such service back then, as the country’s internet connection wasn’t very reliable. 

“We had to put the online operations on hold and wait for the technology to catch up because we didn’t want to inconvenience our clients. For us, it’s either we offer the best quality of service or not offer it at all. While waiting, we started developing the services more thoroughly. We sent teachers to Singapore to train them and we studied the market further,” she says.

Llenado says getting into the online business is the next step for the fast growing business.  She says while Ahead currently has five tutorial and review centers in Metro Manila, and two outside the capital, the introduction of Ahead Online means quality tutorial and review services will be available to more students not only in the Philippines but overseas as well.  

Llenado says starting Ahead Online is a way for her company to tap the lucrative international market. 

“The goal is to expand internationally - first in Asia and eventually the rest of the world. We want to be in the top 10 globally,” she says.

Llenado says her plan is to make Ahead a global company serving students and professionals around the world.  “In the next five to 10 years, I hope to have transformed my company into a major player in the global education industry,” she says. 

Topics: Filipino students , Rossana Llenado , Ahead Learning Systems Inc.
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