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Salim Bhatia’s Opening Remarks, The Aga Khan Academy, Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony (Hyderabad, India)

22 September 2006

 

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It is a great privilege and pleasure to welcome such a distinguished group of individuals to this Foundation Stone-Laying Ceremony in Hyderabad. Thank you for being with us today. Your presence here signifies the importance you place on education and the role you see the Aga Khan Academies playing in education in Andhra Pradesh and in India. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has already expressed its enthusiasm for this project by the gift of this exceptional site. Your Excellency we greatly appreciate your and the government of Andhra Pradesh’s generous support.
Thank you.

I have the honour of having been entrusted with the extraordinary vision of His Highness for the Academies as Director of the Aga Khan Academies. Under the guidance of His Highness and with the generous support of many expert advisors, both voluntary and remunerated, across the globe – we are doing the careful, creative work of building the Aga Khan Academies network, of which the Hyderabad Academy is an integral part. At this time, we envisage a network of 18 campuses across South and Central Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East, to be established over the course of the next decade or so. This is not just a system of quality schools operated under the one “banner” but rather it’s a global learning community in which students and teachers at each Academy contribute and participate.

The decision His Highness took to establish the network of Aga Khan Academies is consistent with the Aga Khan Development Network’s contemporary mandate to help relieve society of ignorance, disease and deprivation without regard to the faiths or national origins of the people whom they serve. And so, the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad too will serve Indian students from all backgrounds.

Over the past century, the Ismaili Imamat has built over 300 schools in the countries where we plan to build Academies. The Aga Khan Education Service currently operates 42 educational institutions in India, educating over 12,000 students and employing over 450 teachers. In addition, in conjunction with the Aga Khan Foundation, it impacts, through school improvement programs, an additional 365 institutions, 58,000 students and over 1300 teachers. The AKDN institutions in India play a critically important role of providing a solid education to many who would otherwise not have access to any education, particularly girls and boys in rural parts of the country.

As envisioned by His Highness, the Academies represent both a continuation of that proud tradition and a new direction. In establishing the network of Aga Khan Academies, the Aga Khan Development Network is not moving away from our commitment to those students, families, and teachers who are part of the AKES. In fact, we intend the Academies to become a primary resource for teacher development. The Academy’s in-house Professional Development Centre with its strong connection to the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development will also serve AKES teachers and other teachers from government and private schools regionally and nationally. Through this Professional Development Center at the Hyderabad campus, the Aga Khan Academies intend to make a sustained meaningful contribution to the quality of education in India.

In establishing the Academies, we are adding a new dimension to our diverse network of educational institutions. The AKDN’s commitment--our tradition -- is to identify particular niches of human need, areas where there is significant human potential that can be developed if given the opportunity. We take care in assessing that need, think creatively and consult broadly in developing sustainable solutions, often quite original, in the form of institutions that will endure and evolve. The niches of human need we identify require bold and creative interventions, and, while we are humble about what we as committed individuals can accomplish in single lifetimes, we take a very long view and have confidence that working together we can effect lasting change.

Hazrat Ali, the first hereditary Imam of the Shia Muslims, emphasized in his teachings that “No honor is like knowledge... No belief is like modesty and patience, no attainment is like humility, no power is like forbearance, and no support is more reliable than consultation.” The work of creating the Aga Khan Academies honors knowledge and the transformative power knowledge has in people’s lives and in the future of society. We also take a fundamentally consultative approach to the work – keeping our minds open to what others can teach us and connecting it to what we know and the particular challenges that we face. We approach all of what we do with modesty and patience, and yet, as my colleagues would tell you, we also bring a sense of urgency to our work – every day matters.

And this day’s Foundation Stone-Laying Ceremony matters. It marks the beginning of the physical establishment of the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, an institution for which we have developed a clear vision and plans, and yet which will take some time to create and even longer to have the impact on society that we expect it to have.

The underlying idea of the Aga Khan Academy’s network is to concentrate substantial resources on those exceptional individuals – students and teachers – who have the potential to transform society. This commitment stems from the fact that, provided with a world-class education, exceptional students from any background can fully achieve their significant potential and in so doing improve their lives, the lives of their families, their communities, their country, and the world. Providing a rich learning environment in which those rare intellectual and personal gifts can be fully developed and at the same time instilling a sense of social responsibility in these bright young minds, this is the philosophy behind the Aga Khan Academies.

We humbly hope that the global network of Aga Khan Academies will become as successful and enduring as the AKDN itself. To be sure, we are at this time a nascent program. Three years have not yet passed since we opened the very first Academy in Mombasa, Kenya. The campus there is still taking shape as we add the residential facilities. We see the Mombasa Academy as our test-bed, our intellectual trampoline on which we can develop and refine the program for the network of Academies. And yet it is not an experimental school: I am proud of our most recent International examination results, placing the school in the top tier of performance world-wide. In addition, students and faculty in Mombasa are setting new national records in swimming, adding local culture to a world class education through visiting artists programmes gaining a true appreciation of their people’s needs by working regularly in a local village with their less privileged brethren. In sum, the Academy is becoming the vibrant, healthy and rewarding learning environment of the sort we aim to create right here in Hyderabad.

In closing, we would all like to thank your Highness for your inspiring leadership, for your vision identifying important human needs, your commitment to tackling them with creative, bold initiatives and staying with them until the solutions are institutionalized.

Thank you.

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