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Salim Bhatia’s Welcoming Remarks at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

20 May 2008

 

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Bismillah al-Rahman al Rahim

Chief Guest: The Honourable Adviser to the Ministry of Education
Honourable Advisers (Major General (Rtd.) Mr. Gulam Quader, Adviser, Ministry of Communications)
Your Highness the Aga Khan,
Your Excellencies
Distinguished guests

It is my great pleasure to welcome you today to this Ceremony that marks Bangladesh formally joining the network of Aga Khan Academies planned for South and Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Aga Khan Academy, Dhaka, henceforth will be an integral part of the development of this network.

Your presence here signifies the importance you place on education and the role you see the Aga Khan Academies playing in education in Bangladesh. I am particularly privileged to welcome our Chief Guest, the Honourable Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, , who is himself an important researcher in the fields of education and poverty alleviation and who understands well the role quality education, plays in development.

The great Bengali literary figure and Nobel laureate, Tagore, was the first to write about the world as a “global village,” an idea that now enjoys broad currency. The schools that constitute the Aga Khan Academies network will form an integrated learning community or, if you will, an academic global village, supported by an extensive educational technology infrastructure.

Students and faculty will enjoy opportunities to live and learn at an Aga Khan Academy in another country during their respective careers, thus deepening their pluralistic outlook and linguistic capabilities.

Located in 18 different sites across the developing world, the Academies will seek to celebrate local cultures and languages, standing proudly as national institutions that are integrally connected to this international network. The Aga Khan Academy in Dhaka will exist to develop leaders with a pluralistic sensibility, individuals who are proudly Bangladeshi yet connected to the larger, cosmopolitan global village described by Tagore over a century ago.

Tagore also wrote about education and how the current generation should think about educating the next generation. He wrote, “Do not limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”

The Aga Khan Academies, in collaboration with the International Baccalaureate organisation and highly experienced educators from across the globe, are focusing great attention on the Academies’ curriculum, to assure that what students learn is both relevant and rigorous, and that those born in another time learn to think clearly and critically for themselves -- for a lifetime.

Working within the broad IB curricular framework, the Academies’ curriculum will emphasize pluralism, ethics, Muslim civilisations, global economics, and comparative political systems.
The Academies are committed to a policy of dual-language instruction, so students at the Academy in Dhaka will be taught in Bangla and in English. This policy derives directly from our commitment to educating future leaders who are rooted in their own culture, history, and language and who are also comfortable on the global stage where English is the lingua franca. We believe that the strongest leaders are those with roots that have been well nurtured.

The selection of students to the Academy will be based on merit -- broadly conceived. Students of all backgrounds will have the opportunity to apply to attend the Academy in Dhaka, irrespective of their ability to pay. Indeed we intend to scout for talent all over Bangladesh.

We will employ a multifaceted selection process that will include interviews, teacher recommendations, and objective methods that allow the assessment of problem solving and leadership potential.

Once selected, students will participate in a bridging programme to begin to acquaint them with life at a residential school while preparing them to succeed academically.

A recent World Bank paper states that quality education, including quality education for the most promising young people, results in stronger economic performance for nations. It is those most promising young people that the Academies will seek to recruit and educate.

We also aspire for the quality of education across Bangladesh to be enhanced through the establishment of the Aga Khan Academy, an institution of the highest quality. Underlying this aspiration, this commitment, is the Muslim ethic of sharing one’s resources, whether material or intellectual, with those who need them most.

The Academy campus will be designed and built to an international standard centred on the mission of educating the whole person – intellectually, spiritually, ethically, and physically – and creating an environment for teaching and learning that will draw out the best in all.

This will become evident from the state-of-the-art educational technology and teaching and learning facilities and the first-rate athletic facilities and playing fields we plan to build on this wonderful 20 acre site. Once fully built out, the campus will comprise over 500,000 square feet of built space and playing fields to accommodate a wide range of sporting and athletic activities.

The means by which the Academy in Dhaka will share its intellectual and technological riches will be the in-house Professional Development Center, or PDC. The PDC will exist to provide meaningful professional development programmes for teachers at government and other not-for-profit schools in Bangladesh, including the successful Aga Khan School in Dhaka, through an ambitious outreach agenda.

We see the Aga Khan Academy’s Professional Development Centre as a new national resource for Bangladeshi education. Being a residential school enables exceptional students of all backgrounds, including the 75% of the Bengali population who live in rural areas, to access a world-class education.

Great care is being taken to develop the residential programme to assure a safe, well supervised, family-like experience for the students and to assure close and regular contact between parents and their children when the children are at school. One of the goals of the residential programme is to develop self-disciplined and ethical students.

In terms of the planning process, we see the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, inaugurated just four years ago, as the test-bed. Here we are developing, testing, and refining the Academies’ teacher training programmes, student selection policies, the bridging and residential programmes, the Academies’-specific curricular enhancements, and the use of technology to enhance learning and operate the diverse programmes efficiently. These are important policies and processes that a young, ambitious institution must get right, particularly before the institution can be replicated elsewhere.

I am proud to say that a strong prototype is emerging – and this gives us optimism about the Academy in Dhaka. It is especially meaningful to gather here in Dhaka during His Highness’s Golden Jubilee Year. I speak for all those involved in the establishment of this institution and the network of Academies – institutions that will have an enormous and lasting positive impact in the world -- in thanking your Highness for your inspiring leadership. We admire your gift of identifying some of the most critical human development needs of our time, and addressing those needs with creative, bold initiatives and sustaining them to assure that significant social impact is realized. During this Golden Jubilee year, we in Bangladesh and worldwide, remunerated and volunteer, thank you for the privilege of being able to contribute to this audacious and auspicious new initiative.

Thank you.

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