“The spirit of pluralism will be further enhanced by the fact that each Academy will be part of a larger network. All of them will be linked…through programmes whereby teachers and students will work for a time in a distant setting.” - His Highness the Aga Khan, Hyderabad 2006
Since the founding of the Aga Khan Academies programme in 2003, His Highness the Aga Khan has consistently shared his vision of building a worldwide network of Academies that will allow students to spend time studying not only at their own Academy, but at sister Academies too – developing a group of pluralistic, well-rounded and tolerant future leaders. Those hopes are now becoming a reality, through the Aga Khan Academies Student Mobility Programme.
After research, planning and consultation, the Exchange Programme piloted in 2018, allowing a group of Grade 9 students from the Academy in Mombasa and Hyderabad to “Exchange” with each other for a period of 7 weeks. During this time, the students were able to gain a critical appreciation of their own identity, values and beliefs, as well as those of their peers, whilst understanding and appreciating varying perspectives and outlooks from both social and academic perspectives. In an overarching goal of the programme, students also learned more about the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) within the countries they were visiting.
One of the key drivers behind the exchange programme is to give students a confident relationship with their own identity, and encourage curiosity about other identities, hopefully fostering pluralism amongst their peers. Students were immersed into their exchange school from the outset. The first-hand experience of living in another culture created challenges which enhanced learning. They followed the same school day as the exchange school, they sampled the local food and were exposed to new languages and perspectives. They had to abide by a new set of rules – both cultural and school based – which created opportunities for personal growth. “Being in Mombasa and learning about the culture there made me realise that I didn’t really have a thorough understanding of my own culture,” reflected Inara Dhanani, a grade 9 student at the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad. Through the programme, the exchange students were able to experience a different way of living within the context of their own attitudes and beliefs.
Like much of the planned Academies network, the Aga Khan Academies in Hyderabad and Mombasa are situated in developing countries. By participating in the exchange programme, students were able to observe development within another country and understand how other countries approach the same challenges, particularly given the similarities between both countries. It will hopefully help students further analyse issues relating to development and inspire them to generate solutions for their own country and other countries in the years ahead.
Across the Academies one important aspect of the curriculum is understanding the work of the AKDN and appreciating that the Academies are part of a wider network. For example, students who went from Mombasa to Hyderabad were taken on a trip to visit the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park and gain an insight into the work of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. In future, the exchange programme will incorporate further collaboration with other agencies within AKDN.
The Student Mobility Programme is soon to start its second cycle. The Programme has been extended from 7 weeks to 13 weeks and will engage a larger group of students. As more Aga Khan Academies open, the Programme will continue to extend and grow and fulfil His Highness’ vision of developing future leaders with an enhanced, pluralistic view of the world around them.