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His Highness the Aga Khan

Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy (Kampala, Uganda)

22 August 2007

 

Please also see: Photographs and East Africa Visit Material

Your Excellency Vice President Professor Gilbert Bukenya,
The Right Honourable Speaker,
The Right Honourable Prime Minister,
Your Worship the Mayor,
Honourable Ministers,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,

It is a very great joy for me to be here today, and I am most grateful to the Vice President - and all of you - for joining us. This is indeed a special celebration - in a truly magnificent setting.

Let me extend, at the very start, my heartfelt thanks to the person who made this beautiful site available for the building of a new Aga Khan Academy. He is Amirali Karmali, known affectionately throughout Uganda as Mzee Mukwano. We are most deeply grateful to Amirali and his family for their extraordinary generosity.

I know I speak for everyone here in describing this gift as a truly inspiring one.

The Quran tells us that signs of Allah’s Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation - in the heavens and the earth, the night and the day, the clouds and the seas, the winds and the waters. I am confident that future generations of students and teachers - who will come to this Academy from around the region and around the world - will feel a profound sense of inspiration as they look out on this superb landscape.

As you have heard, the new Academy in Kampala will be one of 18 Academies in 14 countries which will be developed over the next 15 years. Together, they will constitute an inter-related community of learning - exchanging students and teachers, sharing ideas and insights. And they will also share a variety of environmental experiences. Some, like the first Academy at Mombasa, will be in ocean-side settings, other will be placed in high mountain environments, still others will be built in desert terrains or forested areas - or, as in Kampala, at the side of a beautiful lake. As our students and teachers experience these remarkable surroundings, I hope they will develop what I would call a sense of “environmental pluralism”- to accompany the appreciation for cultural pluralism which we will also hope will be one of the programme’s hallmarks.

As you know, these ceremonies are part of my Golden Jubilee observances. I have welcomed this anniversary year as an opportunity to think back over the past half century - to reflect on the challenges we have faced, the goals we have met, and the lessons we have been learning. In this process, I will be traveling to places which have been of particular importance for me, and for the Ismaili community, and it is most appropriate that Uganda is among the first of these visits.

As I make these journeys, I am also announcing a number of new projects - including this Academy in Kampala. This is in keeping with our tradition on Jubilee occasions of honoring the past by seizing the future - and at the same time, making new plans in an historical context.

A strong commitment to learning has been at the very root of Ismaili and Islamic culture, going back to the first Imam of the Shia Muslims, the fourth Caliph, Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib, and his emphasis on knowledge. The tradition was renewed over many centuries in many places by the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Safavids – the Mughals, the Uzbeks and the Ottomans. During his Imamat, my late Grandfather started some 300 schools in this region. The Academies Programme is thus planted in rich historic soil.

This is a time of exciting dreams and for our Academies programme - as we begin the long process of identifying sites, developing partnerships, and designing campuses. This will be an intricate and demanding process, but we undertake it with a certain confidence. That confidence was re-inforced, I might note, by the excellent scores which our first class of Academy graduates, in Mombasa, have just achieved on their International Baccalaureate exams.

One of the central precepts of the International Baccalaureate Programme is to honour world-class standards, while also respecting cultural diversity. In this respect, its approach mirrors that of the Aga Khan Academies - to help students combine a cosmopolitan spirit on the one hand, with a strong sense of cultural identity on the other.

And is that not one of the secrets to success and fulfillment in our rapidly globalising world? Everyone, everywhere, faces the challenge of engaging - productively and creatively - in the global arena of action and ideas, while also respecting the unique character of family roots and cultural traditions.

As students seek to enter the Academies programme, they will be judged on merit, not by their financial resources. As students leave this programme, they will move on to quality universities - and then to positions of social leadership. We expect many of our Kampala graduates to become pillars of Ugandan public and private institutions, a homegrown cadre of leadership.

Let me also underscore at this point Uganda’s own history as a centre of learning - the home of great international institutions like Makerere University, a traditional source of indigenous African leadership. Today, the Government of Uganda is making a commendable commitment to universal public education. It is a time of renewal in Ugandan education, and we hope the Aga Khan Academy in Kampala will contribute to that process.

Just yesterday, we marked another key step in building Uganda’s future as we laid the foundation stone for a new hydroelectric energy project in Bujagali. I noted there that lasting economic growth will be self-destructive if it is not matched by the growth of the power supply.

The same thing is true in the world of human resources, where people supply the power. If economic growth propels us down a road for which our future leaders are not prepared, then we will never sustain our advances.

This is why so many of the long-term investments we have been making, throughout the developing world, are investments in education. They have ranged from Madrasa programmes for early childhood development, to primary schools in disadvantaged communities, to leadership training programmes and scholarships for promising young professionals. At the tertiary level, we have recently launched the University of Central Asia. This is an international agreement between Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and the Ismaili Imamat to create a new institution of higher learning specialised in mountain societies. And, as you may know, we are also planning to expand the Aga Khan University - founded almost 25 years ago in Pakistan - and now an active presence in nine different countries. Just this week, the Aga Khan University announced its plans for a new Faculty of Health Sciences in Nairobi, as well as a major new East African campus in Arusha.

All of our initiatives are built around a pragmatic, experience-based, and innovative approach to education - an effort to refresh and replace narrower approaches which have sometimes mis-served the developing world. Education, in the past, has too often been a matter of indoctrination - advancing the demands of dogma instead of the disciplines of reason.

What is required today, in my view, is an educational approach which is the polar opposite of indoctrination - one that nurtures the spirit of anticipation and agility, adaptability and adventure.

To this end, the Academies curriculum will encourage its students in the practice of what I would call “Intellectual Humility, “ recognizing that what they do not know will always be greater than what they know - and launching an ardent, lifelong search for the knowledge they will need. In an age of accelerating change, the most important thing any student can learn is how to go on learning.

Let me touch briefly, on two particular features of the Academy vision. The first is its emphasis on the training of teachers. We plan to create on our campuses a series of Professional Development Centres, devoted to “educating the educators,” and to pedagogical research. On the Kampala campus, in fact, we will begin with teacher education - establishing the Professional Development Centre, even before we enroll the students. We will put the horse before the cart, where it should be. We are confident that good teachers and best practices will radiate out from this Centre into the wider world of education.

A second feature is our emphasis on the value of a residential campus, where students not only learn together but also live together. I have noted a recent study by The World Bank which found that the quantity of time or money spent on education was less important than the quality of specific educational experiences. Extraordinary teachers and exceptional companions are the key to such experiences.

The final point I would emphasize today, above all else, is our uncompromising commitment to Quality-- in every aspect of the Academy experience. Our hallmark will be quality students, quality instructors, quality facilities - an unwavering devotion to world-class standards. Let the day be long past when some could excuse mediocrity by saying that it was “good enough for Africa”.

The particular challenge of the Aga Khan Academies will be to provide an exceptional education for exceptional students. We cannot claim that they will directly provide a major proportion of tomorrow’s leaders - or tomorrow’s teachers. But we believe they can help - as centres of energy and influence for the entire educational enterprise.

We look forward to working with the government and the people of Uganda as we pursue these great objectives. I know we will all remember this important ceremony at this beautiful place as a special moment in this process. Again, we are most grateful to all of you for sharing it with us.

Thank you.

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