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  • His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the Aga Khan Academy opening ceremony in presence of His Excellency President Mwai Kibaki (left) and Prince Rahim Aga Khan (right).
    AKDN / Gary Otte
Inauguration ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy Kilindini

Your Excellency, President Mwai Kibaki,
Honourable Minister for Education, Professor. George Saitoti,
Honourable Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen

In the long history of the Ismaili Imamat's engagement with education, covering well over a 1000 years and numerous countries past and present, few days can have been as important as this one. It is therefore with the greatest happiness and gratitude that I thank His Excellency the President of Kenya, Mr. Mwai Kibaki for having accepted my invitation formally to open the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa. Your Excellency, it is a source of very great joy to everyone associated with the Aga Khan Academies and their aspirations of becoming Centres of Educational Excellence to have you here.

I welcome the presence here today of the Ministers of Education from Kenya, the Hon. Professor George Saitoti;
From the Democratic Republic of Congo, Minister of Higher Education Emile N'Goy Kassongo and Educational Advisor to the President, Sangwa Ibiy;
Minister Mer Ranjivason from Madagascar;
Minister Mamadou Lamine Traore from Mali;
Minister Alcido Nguenha from Mozambique;
Minister Joseph Mungai from Tanzania;
From Uganda, Minister Dr. Edward Khiddu Makubuya
And from Zanzibar, Minister Suleiman Haroun Ali.

I would also like to note the presence of Prof. Mondo Kagonyera, Minister for General Duties, Uganda, and Mr. Kaidha Ordinaev the Deputy Minister of Education of Tajikistan, who have accepted my invitation to share this important day with us.

I also welcome key figures in education from other parts of the world who are present with us today, particularly Ms. Cathy Cox Secretary of State for the State of Georgia and her husband Mark Dehler, Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University, Mrs. Barabara Chase the Principal of Phillips Academy Andover, Richard Larivière, Dean of the College of Liberal Studies University of Texas, and Mrs. Larivière, and Sam Cherribi Special Assistant to the Provost, Emory University, Atlanta Georgia.

The presence of all these honoured guests signifies an occasion of remarkable commitment to educating future generations in Africa, Central Asia and North America. I am honoured by your presence, and gratified by the commitment that you represent to improving the education that we all offer in our respective areas of the globe.

Everyone who joins in the establishment of a new school participates in an act of joyful hope and faith. A new school 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. If it becomes a great school, it 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. In dedicating this school then, we dedicate the governing board, teaching and administrative staff and students to the most devoted and creative service to Kenya, to Africa, and to mankind.

In these few minutes I will underline what I believe to be the ideas and principles that will drive the Aga Khan Academy, Kilindini. I do so because I see it as the pioneer institution in what I hope will become in the next few years a network of schools of the highest international standards, from primary through higher secondary education, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. It is my hope that through joint ventures and curricular collaboration they will continually enhance the global content, so necessary today, in the standard education of schools in North America and Europe.

Before the AKDN and I could commit ourselves to such a high profile international academic endeavour, and one that will require significant human and material resources over several decades, we needed to assure ourselves that the logic of the concept was solid. One of the factors which reinforced our decision was the deplorable state of much of higher education in the areas of the world where our network of new schools will be established. While the causes and consequences of this are well known, it is clear that the corrective processes which are now being put in place will take many years to bear fruit and that even as this occurs it is unlikely to expand the numbers of young men and women who will have access to higher quality education in the future.

Thus a very high percentage of secondary students will never have the possibility of proceeding to higher education in the years ahead. Probably not more than 15% of graduating students from the secondary schools of our areas will ever go to university. It is to the 85% of the students who currently end their education at secondary school, that the Aga Khan Academies aspire to offer new and significantly better opportunities.

Another consideration is the somber global circumstances in which we launch this new school.

In troubling ways we see a world more deeply divided, farther from the great ideals of tolerance and respect among nations, faiths and peoples that emerged from the devastation of World War II, than at any time since the end of the Colonial Era. We know too well the divisions on the continent of Africa, of rich from poor, of the gravely ill from the healthy and well fed, of ethnic and religious groups set against one another by fear and incomprehension, or greed and ambition, although they may for centuries have inhabited the same villages.

These conditions are dismaying, but I believe that this is also a time of great promise: that men and women of integrity, understanding and generosity of spirit can create the human institutions that will lay foundations of knowledge, trust and tolerance for bridging these terrible divides.

The effective world of the future is one of pluralism-that is to say, a world that comprehends and accepts differences. But such a world must be based on a new intellectual and spiritual equality and it must be educated to see in pluralism, opportunities for growth in all areas of human endeavour. History has shown in every part of the world and at every time, that the rejection of pluralism and the attempt to normatise the human race has always resulted in factionalism, oppressiveness and economic and social regression.

What is required to address this context?

First, and most obviously, the citizens of Africa and Asia must function intellectually at the highest international levels.Their writings and research must contribute to the global edifice of knowledge; their economists, lawyers, physicians and scientists must participate easily in professional and scientific societies around the world; and their publications, inventions, and artistic and architectural creations must be of a quality to enrich the human experience. There are ample instances of this sort of performance to underline that human talent is not lacking - although too often the performer has emigrated from Africa or Asia.

Second, and perhaps less obviously, to participate confidently in a plural world, the citizens of Africa and Asia must have a deeper grasp of the cultures from which they spring. It is an enduring frustration for Asian students wishing to do advanced study, for example, in Urdu linguistics, or Ottoman bureaucracy, or Assyrian sculpture that they can only do this in Europe or North America. An African student wishing to study the history of the middle period of his continent will probably go to Paris or London.

This is not in itself wrong, but it is an anachronistic absurdity. Asian and African scholars and researchers-anthropologists, archeologists, art historians and musicologists-are gravely needed in enduring, productive concentrations to create the books and materials that will educate the children of Africa and Asia about their own cultural underpinnings.

The creation of broadly based scientific and intellectual communities, however, requires more than universities. Educators in the Aga Khan Development Network have worked in East Africa and South Asia for nearly a century, learning over the years in Aga Khan institutions from pre-school to university post-graduate levels, that education is a continuum. Confident attitudes to education, habits of learning, develop early in life. They are related to health and physical vitality, reinforced by steady, predictable environments of honesty, fairness and intellectual rigor.

It is on this base of experience that I took the decision to launch a new network of academic centers of excellence, with the aim of educating young men and women up to the highest international standards from primary through higher secondary education. It is my hope that, in due course, these schools will be located not only in Kenya, but in Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Syria and Mali.

These academic centers of excellence will over time become an alliance or system. Advanced students and teaching faculty will be able to move easily among the Schools, which will be residential, and which, while they meet national government requirements, will share their own high intellectual and pedagogical standards. Graduates, through their periods of study on other campuses, will have personally experienced different social, ethnic and religious environments. English will be their medium of instruction, but they will have become bilingual, and ideally trilingual, and, whether they attend the best universities in their own countries or those in the Western world, they will be equipped to lead in the professions in the societies in which they decide to establish themselves. Students in the Schools will gain basic education in the fields of study most needed for the development of their societies and home countries, but they will also have a strong grounding in the humanities. Most particularly, they will engage in study of the world's great civilizations, including those of the Muslim world.

I would underline three characteristics that will be indispensable to the Schools of Excellence.

The first is quality-of teachers, of students and of physical facilities. The Schools will adopt the International General Certificate of Secondary Education and the International Baccalaureate as their curriculum frameworks because this will align the Schools' academic programs with known, proven international standards and because these frameworks are sufficiently flexible to accommodate humanistic and social scientific materials developed in local environments. But the intellectual quality of a 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. A major goal of these academic centres of excellence therefore is to rejuvenate and restore the public standing of the profession of teaching. The minds of our children require teachers who are the intellectual equals to the best professionals in other fields such as law and medicine. 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.

Students must be admitted because of their merit: their intellectual promise and evidence of their character and desire to learn. This means that the Schools must have the capacity to select them without regard to their families' ability to pay the school's fees. A talented, highly motivated student body is a joy to teachers, bringing out their best, and it will establish standards of performance and behavior for other students.

The buildings and spaces of a school, often the first exposure of young people to architecture and designed spaces, both educate the eye of students and reinforce the intellectual standards and cultural rootedness of the institution. The comments of parents about the architecture of the school at Kilindini illustrate gratifyingly their awareness of the connection between the intellectual and physical standards of a school.

The interplay among teachers, students and facilities of the first quality then are what create an excellent school, regardless of the vicissitudes of time and fashion.

Second, I would underline the importance to the academic centers of excellence of their connectedness to other intellectual resources. No school is an island. Over time, the Schools will become resources for one another, but today the Aga Khan Development Network makes it possible for this Aga Khan Academy to be a partner with three sources of ideas and program assistance.

For over a decade the Aga Khan University's Institute of Educational Development (IED), in association with the Universities of Oxford and Toronto, has been working with the schools of Pakistan, and more recently of East Africa, to foster great teaching. Through IED-related Professional Development Schools, teachers deepen their knowledge of their fields, develop their teaching skills and learn the value of self-monitoring and self-criticism. This Aga Khan Academy, in association with the IED, will from its very inception, have at its core a unit to foster the development of teachers.

Recent history has highlighted the risk to the fields of general knowledge of the absence in education in the industrialized world of a knowledge of Islamic humanities. AKU recognized as early as the 1980's the consequences of this vacuum in general education and conceived an institute to address it. This led to the creation, in 2001, of the AKU Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations in London as a source of ideas, research and course materials. The Institute, in its short history, has begun to draw together scholars from around the Muslim world and beyond it to consider the great ethical, economic, artistic and social issues that Muslim societies have faced over the centuries.

Finally, the Schools will be connected to other schools, with their own needs and aspirations. The AKDN's International Academic Partnership will provide the centres of academic excellence with access to the experience and curricular resources of such leading international schools as Philips Academy in the US represented here today by Mrs. Barabara Chase, and Salem in Germany. This in turn will enhance the ability of the Aga Khan Academies to make constructive connections with their neighboring government schools. As with all AKDN institutions, the academies must be vital players in national development efforts.

The third essential quality these academic centers of excellence need to guard and treasure is their integrity. Education is 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 honors are awarded only for intellectual merit, the Academies will attract the most able and honorable applicants. The environment of the school, if it deplores bullying, cheating and special treatment, will nurture growth, fearlessness and good character in its students. From such a school, graduates and faculty will be welcomed anywhere in the world, and the reputation of the school will be a light in its society.

As the young men and women from this Aga Khan Academy, and over time from its sister schools, grow and assume leadership in their societies, it is my hope 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 our destinies. These young men and women, I am sure, will become leaders in the governments and the institutions of civil society in their own countries, in international organizations and in all those institutions, academic, economic and artistic that create positive change in our world. It is my strongest hope that you who carry on the great mission of teaching them will take pride in the confident, resilient minds that you have nurtured.

Thank You.