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(75): On the Proliferation of English Learning Centres in Kano

Muhsin Ibrahim

The trending entrepreneurial business in Kano used to be the so-called Computer Learning Centres a few years back. There is, nonetheless, a remarkable shift today to the so-called English Academy, English Learning Centre or other variant names. I am not against the idea in its entirety, but I am not happy with the vogue for some solid reasons.

If you can remember, at the noontime of computer centres in the state, many a time a student would obtain a certificate, a diploma or even an advanced diploma in computer without knowing, or knowing very little on, how to use as simple as the Microsoft Word, Excel and other elementary computer applications, for the business was hijacked and stalled by quacks. They plunged and polluted it for their desire was just to make one thing: quick money. In no time, many people realised that they were indirectly being largely duped. They stopped their patronage. Nowadays, several people are self-taught computer literates. Computer Centre business is significantly dead and buried.

The English centre business, too, faces a similar existential threat. I am neither an owner of nor a teacher at, any such centres. But I have been actively involved in learning and teaching of the language for approximately a decade. That's why most, if not all, proprietors of the earliest centres around Kano are my teachers, relatives, friends or students. That is why I have been, for long, following what is going on with regards to the centres. It is a commonplace fact that their number is rapidly on the increase – typical way Kano people do business as I will explain later. 

There have been several adverts on the radio, while pages on Facebook of many others sprout daily. I have been invited to “like” or “follow” many such pages. They offer quickest and easiest way to learn English. Embarrassingly, however, the language they describe their pages in is usually fatally wrong. The grammar is suffocated, sometimes even murdered. I wonder: what can they teach their mostly hungry, purpose or even necessity-driven students? Some of these students are married women, successful or struggling businessmen, fresh graduates in the Nigerian saturated labour markets, etc.

Doubtless, it's perfect for graduates (not only of B.A or B.A (Ed.) English or the like, but all) to think outside of the box. Establishing English learning centres is one of such ways, for one doesn't have to always wait for the government job as it is every day getting very difficult to come by one. Yet, one should be very honest with oneself. You know it better if you can indeed teach the English language and/or literature. Your level of understanding of the subject is enough to tell you that “yes, I can do it”. It is, again, a trust vested in you - for people pay you for the services you cannot deliver.

There are of course many excellent and outstanding ones among them. Some of these are owned by renowned, knowledgeable and experienced English teachers (and lecturers). I can recommend anyone to go register with them to polish his/her English communication skills and much more. But there are others I will advise everyone to run away from. Yes.

I believe there should be a sort of a regulatory body to look into this before it gets out of hand. Or, the private English learning centres owners should form an association through which they can monitor what their counterparts are doing. For them to avoid anyone chastising or even rubbishing them, they can (and should) keep an eye on the activities going on there via formal on informal visitations or the like. But really, something ought to be done, and now.

K'wan Salwa (Quail's Egg) Business in Kano
Kwan Salwa was just the bomb in the town some years ago. Everywhere you go, you would see signboards, walls, etc. adorned with the poor bird's portraits and the address of the ‘farm’ you could get it or its egg. So many people soon became agriculturalists; others became experts on birds farming. For almost all kinds of illness, a patient (sometimes even a dying person) would be recommended to eat kwan salwa or eat its meat. It is just, literally speaking, incredible. The egg was what’s (in)famously called “komai da ruwanka”, a kind of a concoction that is said to cure all illness in Hausa land.

I have very limited knowledge of business, theoretically and practically. I however once owned a kiosk in our quarter. That too was not a success worth celebrating. But one thing I know for sure is: Kano people are often eager to populate a business as much as they ‘see’ or think that it's profitable without giving it much thought. There’s always a risk in any business, no doubt about that, but it is always in order for one to carry out feasibility studies and weigh the risk involved. The risk is not always worth taking.

In a nutshell, I am afraid to say that this is just it: like the quail's eggs, like computer centres, like English learning centres...until if you do not take it (i.e. the English learning centres) for a real pecuniary gain. The value of knowledge surpasses using it for economic benefit. I believe that is why according to the Nigerian educational system, everyone could own a school, but every school must meet a certain standard, at least ideally, before it is allowed to operate. It must have qualified teachers, instructional materials and space, among other things. The same or similar guidelines ought to be enforced on the English learning centres in Kano and beyond as I was reliably told that the business is proliferating elsewhere too.

Mine is not cheap nitpicking. It is a kind of “gyara kayan ka…” that is a word of caution to you, the centres' proprietors, to take good care of your places of business, which does not translate to asking you to share the goodies/profits with me.

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