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Speech by Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Bangladesh’s Education Adviser at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

20 May 2008

 

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His Highness the Aga Khan,
my colleagues from the Advisory Council,
representatives of the Aga Khan Development Network,
ladies and gentlemen,

Salaam Aleikum.

It is a real privilege for me to be present on this occasion, when His Highness is celebrating his Golden Jubilee year and a very important milestone is being marked for Bangladesh, with the extension of the Aga Khan Academy programme to this country. At the outset I would like to record the appreciation of our government, both for the visionary leadership His Highness has been exhibiting all these years and also for his commitment to this country, a poor Muslim country but aspiring to be a responsible member and rich member of the global club. Thank you for your commitment and for your leadership.

Today what we have heard of the programme, the specific programme, and the broad vision out of which this programme has been born, inspires us at both levels. Today we are laying the foundation not just for another education institution but for an integrated vision which is not only going to build this particular institution but may hold lessons for other initiatives that government and other partners in society are trying to take forward. And this is what has impressed me most, the integrated nature of the vision. It is not just another quality education centre.

And if I may, for myself, untangle the elements of that integrated vision, first of all there is a message of opportunity, a critical message in a poor country where education, for a long, long time, has been a prime vehicle of social mobility. Many of the senior citizens in this country today, if you are to get their CV, you would find that many of them actually came from rural schools, and occupy high positions across the state and society today. And it has been so, that education has been a crucial vehicle for social mobility in this country. So this message of opportunity is a vital one and it is in the tradition of Bangladesh, it is reaffirming the tradition of Bangladesh. And I would like to again thank you for this message of opportunity for those unknown talents who are waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate the inherent qualities that the creator has endowed them with, the opportunity to allow those qualities to flower. So I think that’s the first message which embraces us and inspires us.

Then there is a second message, and a very important message it is in today’s globalised world, especially for countries of the developing world. It is that as we aspire for education we will not settle for second-best solutions. We will make no compromise on the issues of excellence. On that again it’s a message of ambition which also inspires us, that even sitting you might say at the other end of the wealth spectrum, because of the fact that the creator has created us all, at the level of ambition there need not be any poverty. We must aspire for the highest. And I think the quest for excellence is a critical element of this integrated vision. And again I would like to thank you for that element of the vision. And as I understand, it is a quest which will come to bear through many institutional initiatives at all levels, at curriculum, at choice of students, at the overall way the learning environment will be developed at all levels. And I may share that this quest for excellence is also the goal that the government of Bangladesh has also embraced wholeheartedly.

If I may digress for a minute - for a while, maybe for about two decades, the main challenge on the education frontier for the government of Bangladesh was on the issues of access. The important challenge for us was to get the children into school. But now there is a paradigm shift across our thinking and across our institutions. The critical importance of quality is being felt across all levels, and it is very important that we get these world-class role models to inspire us further in that direction.

The third message, which personally also inspires me enormously, the third message, which is part of the integrated vision, is the importance of valuing our roots and our heritage. I think this is also a very, very important one because we don’t want to just be leaders who embrace values which may not reflect or may not give adequate attention to our roots, which are extremely rich, to our heritage which offers so much, not just to us, to the world at large. I think this again is a critical element of your integrated vision, which inspires us, and which also I think lies at the root of our own work within our country; that we give due importance to our roots, the minds of our younger people come to see the value in our roots and our heritage. I think this is very important in terms of the one particular facet of globalisation, which tends to produce very homogenised values, which may not appreciate what His Highness mentioned, the healthy diversity dimension of our existence.

And there is a fourth value which I again think is a part of our roots but I think it needs to be independently emphasised, and that’s something I think we are trying to do in Bangladesh across many sectors. There’s the importance of the ethical base of our thinking and of our behaviour. I think the issue of ethics is at the forefront of our concerns in Bangladesh today, not just in politics. The media maybe focus more on that, just that one area, but I think the ethical dimensions of our existence is a critical aspect for us to look at, and I think especially for our younger people to appreciate and understand the importance of the ethical way of looking at things, and the ethical practices that they must embrace as they enter into leadership positions, I think that is again part of the vision which is so inspiring. And thank you again for that aspect of the vision too.

I think it is in great order that we are celebrating today the coming of the Aga Khan Academy to Bangladesh at a point in time in which Bangladesh itself is embarked on similar visionary advances across all sectors of our existence. As His Highness mentioned, there will be of course the difficult practical task to translate all these visions into concrete realities, because we cannot underplay the practical challenges too. Then it will only remain at the level of intentions, but intentions have to be translated into realities, and I think there is no reason why those realities cannot be achieved within our lifetimes. These are very much achievable. I think the human spirit, the capacity of the human spirit really knows no bounds and there is no reason why these ambitions, which have been articulated, cannot be achieved. Bangladesh government, Bangladesh society at large, is also embarked not only on the education frontier on an ambitious collective journey forward; many focus on the uncertainties. I would like to focus on the potentials of the whole process, the uncertainties are there, they are integral part of any journey, but I think it is the spirit, the will, which has to be always put forward, and I see Bangladesh as a continuous example of how the optimism of the spirit and will continuously confounds the statistics of despair, which unfortunately tend to grab the bigger headlines. But it doesn’t matter. The headlines in that sense don’t matter, if new headlines can be created for tomorrow, and that’s what we are focussed on, on creating the new headlines which will come to inspire us more tomorrow. I think His Highness has so eloquently put the choice before us: shall we choose the worst of both worlds or shall we choose the best of both worlds, in terms of our duel identity as a global citizen and a locally rooted individual? And I think in this choice, whether we choose the best of the both worlds or the worst of both worlds, I think we have already made our choice. And the task really now is to move ahead on that, with that idea that the human spirit can always achieve the impossible. If it sounds impossible today, it should not deter us from embarking on our ambition.

With those few words, I again would like to thank His Highness and offer my felicitations on his Golden Jubilee year and thank the Aga Khan Development Network for including Bangladesh in the Academy Programme, and would like to offer our total support in making sure that what the foundation laying ceremony is embarking upon today would translate into the full ambition in the shortest possible time.

Thank you very much.

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