Select Page

Fighting for a better education system for our kids

Written by: Jyska Kuan Ken

Continuing the dream for a better education system

Holding on to the dream of better education for our kids

The past year and a half was a test of trust, resilience, and gratitude. AHEAD, the review and tutorial center I started, almost closed down because of the K-12 shift mandated by the Department of Education. It was every entrepreneur’s fear realized. We found ourselves at survival mode— from 4,000 students usually enrolling in our summer program down to only 300 students. There were a lot of heartbreaks, wasted opportunities, and sacrifices.

The closure of the Greenhills branch was probably the hardest. We opened that branch in 1999, the same year my daughter Darla was born. I always associated the Greenhills branch with her. Both past and present students also had good memories within its walls. They would hang out there in their free time, talking and laughing with whoever is attending the reviews. We tried holding on to the branch but eventually we had to let it go. It felt like a wave crashing upon us, the boat was sinking.

I poured my savings in the company while selling properties to keep us afloat. I did my best to hold on to keep my dream and the dreams of countless people alive.

We were more affected than other tutorial and review centers because AHEAD has a dedicated training and research team. The department had substantial financial implications but quality is in our brand promise and I will never compromise on bringing research-based and systems-backed education services.

The stress and anxiety also made me sick, adding to the burden. I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism which slowed down my body and made me prone to develop other sicknesses such as diabetes. Sometimes I couldn’t lift my feet despite shouting orders at them in my head. It was a literal systems slowdown. How would I be able to run AHEAD now?

Gratefully, it is truly during hard times that show how kind and supportive people can be. When I told the remaining staff to start looking for other opportunities, they stayed and continued to work together in bringing quality services to the few students who enrolled. Franchisees and landlords lent their support to help us weather the challenges. They patiently waited for us to get back on our feet. I am forever grateful for their kindness and friendship. I would like to mention Robinsons Galleria, the owner of the FBR Building, Xanland’s owner, and the franchisees. We were saved through their help.

But the most crucial person during those trying times was my son Nicolo. He stepped up and took over some of the operations of Ahead while I was recovering from hyperthyroidism. He was fresh out of college and dealing with his own physical condition. It didn’t stop him from quickly learning the ropes and making the right decisions for the company. He later told me he learned valuable insights from my stories about Ahead in the past years that guided him to understand what needed to be done. I readied him for the position without even me knowing. I was proud of him.

Now we are back, stronger than ever because of the challenges we faced. We are rebuilding what we have lost and working hard to achieve bigger milestones. AHEAD is rebranding and opening back branches. Students are returning to a better AHEAD. I am also finishing writing a book on women entrepreneurship called, “What’s the best business for me? And other common questions entrepreneurs ask.” It is the first book from my book series, SMART SUPERWOMEN.

I am also reviving this blog to continue to share my story especially to the moms who are experiencing the same things. I hope that this will inspire you to keep going and fight for your dreams.

Choosing the Right High School

By Lyra Pore-Villafaña

My family has had a number of conversations lately about the best high school for our oldest daughter who’s now in Grade Six.

“I want to go to OLMC,” she declared last year. OLMC is an exclusive girls’ school run by the Sisters of Mercy in Australia.  It prides itself in educating Catholic girls in the Mercy tradition for over a hundred years.

My daughter has been particularly impressed by the breadth of extra-curricular opportunities that OLMC provides.  There’s a string ensemble, a cake decorating club, a debating team. Name any activity that will catch the fancy of teenage girls, and they probably have it.  They even have a strong swimming team that my child, who loves racing, is looking forward to joining.

We’ve already  made up our minds about OLMC that we’ve  enrolled her there one-and-a-half years before she’s due to go to high school.

Then a few weeks ago, my daughter received an offer from one of the government-run academic selective schools.  These are like the Australian equivalent of the Philippine Science High School system.  Each year, thousands of Grade Six students apply for admission to selective schools, but only a few get offers because places are limited.

While we are all extremely happy about her passing the test, the good news suddenly throws  our plans into disarray.  My daughter will have the opportunity to study in one of the best high schools in Australia at a very minimal cost to us. All we have to pay for are the school uniforms and supplies and a small contribution to educational resources. The decision to forego private schooling seems to be a no-brainer ― but it actually isn’t.

Yes, the quality of education in an academic selective school will be superior. Yes, it will save us a fortune. Foremost on our minds though is this:  Will she be happy in a highly competitive environment that these schools are known for? Will she thrive in a school where she’s constantly striving for good grades, leaving her with very little time to pursue other interests?

My husband and I have been in the workforce long enough to know that building a successful career isn’t all about having the brains to do the job. Don’t get me wrong. Having walked the grounds of the University of the Philippines in Diliman myself many years ago, I am all for academic excellence.

My experience in the “real world”, however, has also led me to appreciate that doing well in life doesn’t depend on intelligence alone. Equally important is one’s ability to build relationships, to bounce back from failure and rejection, to keep one’s focus even when the going gets tough.

What type of school will help a person build that character?  It depends. Some children excel in a highly competitive environment. Others blossom when allowed the time to  pursue arts, music, sports, and other co-curricular activities.

We decide to give our daughter room to weigh her options. Though she’s only 11 years old, we feel that she should have a say in the matter.  It’s her future after all.

“I’ll go selective,” she announces just a few days  after  mulling things over.  “And why is that?”  I ask, amazed at how quickly she has come to a decision.

“Well,” she begins.  “I checked out the school uniform, and I think I will look good in it.”

“And I have some friends who are going there too.”

So there.  I seem to be making things more complicated than they really are.  To an 11-year old girl, it’s all about the outfit and the friends.