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  • His Excellency President Mwai Kibaki and His Highness the Aga Khan walking on the site of the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa.
    AKDN/Gary Otte
Aga Khan and Kenya President Kibaki inaugurate the first of an international network of Academic Centres of Excellence

Mombasa, Kenya, 20 December 2003 - The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, the first in an international network of close to 20 academic centres of excellence was today inaugurated by Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims.

The Aga Khan Academies will feature a curriculum based on the International Baccalaureate (IB) and a system of international student and teacher exchanges between Academies in different countries as well as with allied schools, including Phillips Academy in the United States and the Schule Schloss Salem in Germany. Proficiency in at least two languages, of which one will be English, and progressive mastery of information technologies will also be hallmarks of the programmes. To ensure access regardless of socio-economic status or other limiting factors, admission to the Academies will be merit-based and means-blind.

"A new school," said the Aga Khan, "looks to a better world, for it exists to help students develop the character, intellect and mental resilience that will enable them to prosper in circumstances that we can only imagine." A great school, the Aga Khan said, "will educate its students not merely to be personally successful but also to use their gifts to build their communities and enhance the common good to levels beyond our dreams."

The Aga Khan was speaking to a distinguished audience of government and civic dignitaries and educators that included ministers concerned with education from eight countries across Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as experts from Europe and North America.

He explained that one of the reasons of the schools was to offer improved opportunities to the many students from the developing world who "will never have the possibility of proceeding to higher education." Another reason was that despite "a world more deeply divided, farther from the great ideals of tolerance and respect among nations, faiths and peoples ... than at any time since the end of the Colonial Era," there was hope for bridging this divide. "The effective world of the future is one of pluralism," said the Aga Khan, "but such a world must be educated to see in pluralism, opportunities for growth in all areas of human endeavour."

Echoing these sentiments, President Kibaki said that "nationalities do not matter" when it comes to the value of the new ideas that the Aga Khan was seeking to plant and allow to grow in Kenya as elsewhere in the world.

Calling it "an anachronistic absurdity" that students from Africa and Asia often had to go abroad to study their cultures," the Aga Khan stressed that knowledge and talent from these continents must "contribute to the global edifice of knowledge."

Describing one of the outstanding characteristics of the academic centres of excellence, the Aga Khan explained that "graduates, through their periods of study on other campuses, will have personally experienced different social, ethnic and religious environments." He reiterated that "students in the school will gain basic education in the fields of study most needed for development of their societies and home countries, but would also have a strong grounding in the humanities".

According to the Aga Khan, three characteristics of the Academies would be indispensable. One was the quality of teachers, of students and of physical facilities. "A major goal of these academic centres of excellence," he said, "is to rejuvenate and restore the public standing of the profession of teaching." "The intellectual quality of the school depends not upon an abstract curricular design, but upon the quality of mind, classroom inventiveness and dedication of the teacher and upon the support given that teacher by parents and school leaders." Speaking of teachers, the Aga Khan said "we must not only compensate them appropriately and in accord with our expectations that they will grow professionally, but assure to them a quality of life which will both satisfy them, and encourage future generations of educated men and women to see in teaching a great and valid opportunity in life, and not a profession of last resort."

The second characteristic was that these centres would be important because of their "connectedness" to other intellectual resources such as the Aga Khan University's Institute of Educational Development (IED) and schools such as Philips Academy in the United States and Schule Schloss Salem in Germany.

The third quality that these schools would need to guard, he said, was their integrity. "Education," the Aga Khan emphasised, "was an intensely moral enterprise, which depends upon clear ethical rules. "If children and their families can be confident that admission to the Academies is by open, understood criteria, that examinations are administered with integrity and that honours are awarded only for intellectual merit, the Academies will attract the most able and honourable applicants."

"It is my hope," he concluded, "that it will be members of this new generation who, driven by their own wide knowledge and inspiration, will change their societies; that they will gradually replace many of the external forces that appear, and sometimes seek, to control their destinies."

Each Academy will incorporate a Professional Development Centre for teacher training and curricular innovation at all affiliated institutions. Each Centre will function not only for the benefit of the Academy but extend modern teaching and learning methods to government and private schools locally and regionally.

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The Aga Khan Academies are part of the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES), which currently operates more than 300 schools and advanced educational programmes that provide quality pre-school, primary, secondary, and higher secondary education services to more than 54,000 students in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Uganda, Tanzania, and Tajikistan. Schools are also envisaged, or under development, in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique and Syria. The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies whose mandates range from the fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. Its agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia.