14 August 2007
The Honorable Noah Wakesa, Minister for Science and Technology,
Honourable Minister Haroun Suleiman,
Leaders of the Ummah,
My thanks go out to all of you - not only for joining us here today, but for making this day possible. For some of you, this event marks the culmination of a 25 year story - a story that began with the sowing of some very small but well selected seeds a quarter of a century ago - seeds which took root and now have blossomed into an educational success story which can serve as an inspiring example to educators everywhere.
As you know, I have completed 50 years as Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. Sometimes it’s not so easy these days to remember all the way back to 1957. But I have no problem at all remembering my initial meetings 25 years ago here in Mombassa with the Ummah leadership - with leaders of the Aga Khan Foundation, and with others of you who shared what was then an innovative insight. You shared a conviction that the way in which children are educated in their earliest years is a key which can unlock the doors of opportunity for the rest of their lives.
A deep concern for Knowledge - and the best ways of sharing Knowledge - goes back to the very roots of the Islamic tradition. When we think of our proud educational traditions, however, we often think first about the great Universities and Libraries which became centers of Islamic culture down through the centuries - including in our time the Aga Khan University which now has teaching centres in eight different countries. Or we think of schools which prepare students for university life - as our Aga Khan Academy programme is designed to do.
But we sometimes give too little attention to the schools which prepare young children for life itself - in all of its holistic dimensions. And yet the evidence accumulates steadily showing that an investment made in the earliest, pre-school years can bring enormous dividends as a child proceeds from one level of education to another.
We have particularly strong evidence that this has been the case for the Madrasa programme in this community - and in the other communities and the other countries to which these concepts now have spread. From the seed that was planted here in the Coastal Region some 25 years ago - when Bi-Swafiya Said received her grant from the Aga Khan Foundation - the East African Madrasa Programme has grown to include 203 pre-schools, with nearly 800 teachers, reaching some 30,000 households and serving more than 54,000 children. This is truly an inspiring story.
It is also important to note some additional distinctions concerning this program. One is the Programme’s pluralistic, inclusive approach - embracing Muslim and non-Muslim children alike – and helping all of them to learn important lessons about diversity. Indeed, it is good to see that parents of different faiths are represented on the School Management Committees.
It is striking that modern neuro-sciences have demonstrated that long before the age of 6, children are aware of the different cultural backgrounds amongst each other in their classes. It is thus before that age that pluralism can be instilled as a life value.
Another point worth noting is the rigour with which quality has been assured - with strong Madrasa Resource Centres helping to set goals and standards, and rewarding their achievement through a school graduation program. The progressive nature of this programme is also evident in the fact that women have played such a large part in its success - and that young girls make up such a significant part of the pre-school population. And I would point out as well that the programme’s success has occurred largely among poor, rural populations - where both the needs and the obstacles are often greatest. Our challenge now will be to ensure the programme’s sustainability - and its replicability.
We gather today, then, in a spirit of enormous gratitude - to the Pioneers who led this effort, the Ummah and Jamat leadership, the donor community, the government leaders who have been involved, and so many dedicated volunteers - from the very beginnings of the programme right down to the present day. In the end, the story of the Madrasa Programme has been a story of personal commitment.
And we know that the story must go on. The dream will continue to unfold. And the work which all of you have been doing will continue to resonate in the thousands of lives you have touched and shaped - and in the lives of their children and grandchildren.
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