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Welcome Address by Salim Bhatia 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 the Vice President of Uganda, Professor Gilbert Bukenya,
Your Highness the Aga Khan,
Your Excellency the Prime Minister,
Your Worship the Mayor,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies
Distinguished guests:

It is my greatest pleasure to welcome you to this Ceremony today at this beautiful site. A ceremony that marks Uganda formally joining the network of 18 Aga Khan Academies planned for Africa, South and Central Asia and the Middle East. The Aga Khan Academy, Kampala henceforth will be an integral part of this network’s development.

I am particularly pleased to welcome Your Excellency and to note your distinguished career as a medical educator and your impressive legacy of poverty reduction in Uganda.

Uganda’s tradition of educational excellence is reflected in outstanding institutions that are well known across the world.

Many of the people here today have benefited from their influence and I am delighted to welcome you here. Your presence signifies the importance you place on education and the role you see the Aga Khan Academies playing in extending Uganda’s heritage of educational excellence well into the future.

The Aga Khan Academy, Kampala, will provide students of unusual promise, of all backgrounds, from across Uganda an education that is rigorous and relevant, that prepares graduates to address confidently and wisely Uganda’s future problems and opportunities. It will also enhance the quality of teaching, the base on which good education rests. The Aga Khan Academy will provide relevant and rewarding professional development programmes at its in-house Professional Develoment Centers, serving Ugandan teachers and school leaders from within the Academy as well as from government and other schools.

Those professional development programmes are one of many benefits the Academy in Kampala will realize by its membership in a global network. The network will have a critical mass of teachers on different campuses teaching the same grade level or the same subject, enabling colleagues to share best practices and work together on curricular and pedagogical enhancements.

The schools that constitute this network are not a loose constellation of like-minded institutions, but rather an integrated learning community. And as particular strengths naturally emerge on individual campuses or outstanding local resources are developed, they will be shared with the entire network.

In addition, students and faculty will be able to live and learn at an Aga Khan Academy in another country during their careers, thus deepening their linguistic opportunities and their pluralistic outlook.

In order to justify the assertion that the Aga Khan Academies provide world-class education, we need to be sure that their excellence is objectively validated by a globally respected authority.

Here the International Baccalaureate Organisation plays a central role in this regard. The IB serves as both a global examination board, through the annual IB Diploma exams, and a quality assurance body through the school authorization process.

The IB is one of the Academies’ critically important partners. I am therefore particularly pleasedto recognize Mr.Jeff Beard, Director General of the International Baccalaureate Organisation, who has joined us for today’s ceremony. Under Mr. Beard’s leadership, the IB is implementing a new strategic direction, which specifically includes expanding IB programmes in the developing world.

Many of you have asked “How will the planning proceed from here?” Allow me to briefly describe the process.

From the outset, the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, inaugurated just four years ago, has been the test-bed. Once the programme has been fully developed in Mombasa, it will serve as the model to be replicated elsewhere. This prototype is still under construction. In fact, just last week we laid the foundation stone for the residential campus in Mombasa, which will open in 2008.

Our approach is simple yet sound: We are committed to getting the programme right in Mombasa before we move forward too quickly elsewhere.

What does it mean to “get the programme right”? It means learning how best to identify and train those outstanding educators who are excited about making their careers within the Academies network. And it means understanding which professional development programmes have the greatest impact on teaching and learning. It means finding the strongest school leaders, while transforming Mombasa into a training ground for leaders of future Academies. It means building the most effective partnerships globally.

As we can feel, by being on this beautiful site, we must get the design of the campus right. We know architecture itself enhances and contributes to learning.

Very importantly, it also means learning how to identify and recruit the most promising students, including gifted students from underprivileged backgrounds. These are some of the issues that a young, ambitious institution must get right, particularly before the institution can be replicated elsewhere.

I am proud to say that there is much that is right in Mombasa – the strong prototype is emerging. The first cohort of students took their International Baccalaureate Diploma exams in June, and they performed well. Our students’ overall average was nearly two points above the global average for the exams. 2 of the 22 students who took the exams scored in the top 3% of the 180,000 exam takers globally. And, 4 of 22 scored in the top 10%. Remarkably, very few of the faculty had prior experience teaching the International Baccalaureate curriculum, but through dedicated hard work and the Academy’s commitment to professional development, they and their students have achieved outstanding results.

Our students’ achievements in competitive athletics and community service are also notable. The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, swim team is one of the top teams in Kenya and includes two national champions, one of whom has Olympic-team aspirations.

The Academy’s extensive community service programme has established vital links to neighboring communities and, while those communities have benefited from the services provided by students and faculty, the participants themselves say that they are the true beneficiaries.

While the IB Diploma results provide an objective, globally based measure of academic performance and while athletic prowess can be measured by record-breaking times and winning scores, ultimately we hope that the qualities of leadership that are harder to measure – qualities of sound moral judgment, self-discipline, a pluralistic outlook, and civic responsibility -- are those that will distinguish Aga Khan Academy graduates’.

It is especially meaningful to gather here in Kampala early in this, His Highness’s Golden Jubilee Year. We reflect in awe on the institutions His Highness has created and strengthened in East Africa and elsewhere over the past half century and the contributions those institutions have made to the quality of life for all. Based on that legacy, we can confidently look ahead fifty years from today and envision the excellence of the Aga Khan Academy in Kampala, an institution that we hope Ugandans from all backgrounds will come to view as a national treasure.

I speak for all those involved in the establishment of this institution and the network of Academies in thanking your Highness for your inspiring leadership, for your gift of 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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