Computer Class
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When it comes to self-improvement, there is no shortage of training institutes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And some, unfortunately, are in it just for the money. With loose controls from the appropriate ministries, some of these operators have found an easy way to make money.

An acquaintance recently approached me in a highly agitated state. He had invested 18,000 Saudi riyals (Dh17,628) and felt mighty upset about the returns on his payout. Over a year ago, he had enrolled for computer courses at one of those institutes that seemed to be popping out in every neighbourhood and had just found out recently that his enrolment had been terminated.

He went on to describe how he had felt some shortcomings in his PC skills at work, and seeing an ad in the paper on how computer skills can turn one from rags to riches, decided to sign up himself and his son for a Windows and Microsoft Office skills course.

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Just before signing on, each applicant at the institute was given the royal treatment on how this was the generation of PCs and how isolated one would be without such training. This particular centre located in a complex of a 5-star hotel also extolled the virtues and qualifications of its highly trained staff, and how each student would be provided with individualised attention.

The stated goal of this institute being the complete satisfaction of the student was the sales pitch, and those with work obligations could learn and train at their leisure during off-duty hours. There was scant mention of a beginning or an end to the training programme. This institute also claimed to be certified by Microsoft Corp. to issue authentic diplomas, as their sales brochure screamed out in bold letters!

Well, my friend fell for the sales pitch. He was quickly presented with two contracts, one for himself and the other for his son. There was an abundance of fine print, but the salesman just brushed things off swiftly, and taking my friend into his confidence, told him, “Hey, this is all mumbo jumbo for headquarters. The important thing is that we know each other. You are a Saudi and nice guy, and I trust you enough to give you my personal mobile phone number. Any problem no matter how small and you just call me immediately.”

With that he secured my friend’s signature on both contractual documents and 18,000 riyals which he immediately sent off to another department at the centre and walked him to the door.

“Now remember, you have my number. Any problems, just call.’ He snapped his fingers for added emphasis.

'Future of human civilisation'

Well, my friend and his son began attending the training institute at their leisure. A few months later, with only three of the nine modules completed, he found himself unwelcome at the same centre.

When he inquired as to the reason, a rotund secretary told him cheerfully that his membership had expired, and that to maintain his training status, he would have to fork out an additional 12,000 riyals.

My friend was furious. All efforts to get in touch with the finger-snapping salesman failed, he was either out of town, attending to his ailing mother, or building a house and kept odd hours, depending on whom was telling my friend all of this. Even the institute manager seemed to be forever travelling to the headquarters in Riyadh for one meeting or the other.

Finally, after a few days of getting nowhere, the secretary took him to the side and told him in confidence that he would try and negotiate with the manager to get my friend a 50 per cent discount on the renewed membership.

He wanted to do this because my friend was a nice guy, and knowledge of computers was the future of human civilisation, he added sympathetically. If the client would agree, all he had to do was bring in 6,000 riyals the next day, and get a whole year’s training for half the price! What could be a better deal? My friend came to me instead.

Read the fine print

If you want to educate yourselves on computer programs, I recommend you properly investigate these training centres. Some are in the business of getting your money first, and again, and again! And some charge up to 30,000 riyals for such training programmes. All under the guise of a Microsoft Corporation diploma, that carries very little weight with most employment agencies.

Rather, look for a willing individual with abundant PC know-how, offer him up to SR300 an hour, and if you are of average intelligence or more you should be able to grasp the working of Windows and most Office programs within five to 10 hours of such instruction. Save the money you would have spent at a training institute for your child’s college education instead.

There’s a sucker born every minute, or so the saying goes. Do some research on the establishment and read the fine print next time before signing any contracts, or else you will end up being the sucker.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena