Groundbreaking of the International Academic Centre of Excellence, Dar es Salaam | Aga Khan Academies

Groundbreaking of the International Academic Centre of Excellence, Dar es Salaam

17 March 2005

Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the groundbreaking ceremony of the International Academic Centre of Excellence, Dar es Salaam

President Mkapa,
Honoured Guests,
and Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for being with us today. Your presence on this important occasion is very special to us.

Mr. President you have been a most staunch supporter of a new Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development here in Dar-es Salaam. And you have espoused vigoursly the launching of a new Academy. 

One hundred years ago my grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, visited this region to celebrate the opening of the first Aga Khan School in Zanzibar. Two years later, a second school was opened here in Dar-es Salaam.

My grandfather was totally convinced of the importance of education for all young men and women.

He would have been, I believe, immensely pleased that those first two educational institutions were the beginnings of a network that would eventually grow to more than 300 schools in Africa and Asia, from pre-primary to higher secondary. He himself opened some 200 schools and was the founding figure of the first university for Muslims in India, Aligarh, before he passed away in 1957. Since then, our post-secondary system has expanded to include the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.

For the first half of the 20 th century, the Aga Khan School system grew essentially to serve the needs of the Ismaili Community. In a world of colonial governments, each community in East Africa was required to educate in schools specific to their race.

As independence was achieved across Asia and Africa in the post-war period, new nationalist governments asked what was to be the role of their country’s educational system in building a wider sense of nationhood. Many private and community schools were brought into the national system, voluntarily or through nationalisation. Teaching in national languages was emphasised.

But it became evident that governments of developing countries could not alone carry the mounting cost of providing education to their growing numbers of children. Private initiatives would have to play a part. It also became clear teaching in the English language was essential because it had become the global language of diplomacy, education, transport, science, commerce and medicine.

The Ismaili schools across Asia and Africa lived through this process. They were among the first to open their doors to other communities. They had retained English as an essential language and they sought continuously to improve by professionalising and upgrading teachers and administrators. They also built strong relationships with other schools in the Aga Khan network as well as with the national school systems.

Many who attended those schools were able not only to achieve their own potential, but to make an important contribution to the development of their communities and their countries.

I would include here His Worship Mayor Kleist Sykes who is an alumnus of the Aga Khan Boys Secondary. He has made a distinguished contribution to Tanzania in international organizations, as a businessman and as mayor of Dar-es Salaam. Your Worship, Mayor Sykes, we are honoured by your presence today and by your fine example.

Throughout this changing educational environment our schools sought to achieve regional excellence in Asia and Africa. One question was ever present, but never overtly articulated: will Aga Khan Schools ever be able to offer educational standards that will compete with the best, and I mean the very best, in the industrialised world? Today the answer is a vibrant, confident, yes.

This will be achieved through a new kind of school, indeed a network of schools, known as the Aga Khan Academies. One Academy is already opened in Mombasa and the foundation stone has been laid for another in Maputo.

Our Academies represent a commitment to an international standard of excellence for facilities, for faculty and for curriculum. They offer student-centred interactive learning that stimulates inquiry and analysis, encourages critical thinking and builds the foundation for lifelong learning. They aim to produce students with strong value systems who have a broad understanding of the pluralist world.

The students at this institution will be distinguished not only for their academic capacity, but for their character and their commitment to citizenship. They will leave these institutions not only with a thorough grounding in the humanities, the arts and social sciences: They will have studied comparative religion, global free market economics, government and political science, including the various forms of functional and dysfunctional democracy.

They will have spent at least one year studying at an Academy in another country and they will also have mastered at least one foreign language. In short, they will grow up in an educational environment with new areas of knowledge which will be essential for the future.

Over the next 10 years, we plan to open over 19 Academies. They will form part of an international network linked not only with each other, but with some of the best educational institutions in the world. We have already developed academic partnerships with the Phillips Academy in Andover, USA, with the Schule Schloss in Salem Germany.

Some people have referred to the Academies as schools for the elite. I prefer to think of them as schools for the exceptional.

The students who come here will be exceptional because they will have capabilities and character that make them stand out from their peers. And we will ensure through scholarships that exceptional students will be admitted even if they do not have the financial means.

I believe deeply that if developing countries are to be successful in their aim of becoming modern economies with living standards comparable to the West, we must focus not only on universal access to education for the majority or even all of the population. We must also make available educational opportunities at the top international standard for the exceptional students who stand out from the rest.

The reality is that not all students are created equal intellectually. And exceptional individuals are as abundant in the developing world as anywhere else, from the cities and from the countryside. The pity is that too many in the developing world are never given the opportunity to have their minds challenged and stretched and developed to their full potential. Therefore we must strive to create institutions of learning that can help them maximise the potential to study, to learn and to function at the highest international intellectual levels.

I believe this for three reasons.

The first has to do with students. If world class facilities are available here in Tanzania, we reduce the risk that students with the financial means will go abroad to study, many of them never to return and contribute here. And those who do not have the financial ability to study abroad will find the opportunity for an education on par with any institution in the world, right here in Tanzania. This also will help improve the quality of students seeking entrance to national universities.

The second reason has to do with teachers. The Academies will make a substantial contribution to helping uplift the overall quality of education in the communities and countries where they are located. We intend these Academies to be beacons of academic excellence which will attract the best teachers. Some will be recruited from other parts of the world, both for long-term appointments and short-term rotations, bringing with them fresh ideas and bountiful experience. Many more will be educated and trained here.

The faculty of the Academies will do more than teach our students. They will also reach out to schools and teachers in the surrounding community to share their knowledge through formal Professional Development Programmes and informal guidance and mentoring. In this way, the imprint of the Academies will reach far beyond their physical facilities.

This particular Academy will be co-located with a branch of the Institute of Educational Development of the Aga Khan University. This Institute is dedicated to research and teacher training at Baccalaureate level, at the leading edge of pedagogical practice and curriculum content.

The third reason for building exceptional schools in Africa and Asia has to do with building bridges to the industrial world. As residential schools teaching in English with international curricula, the Academies will be excellent venues for students from industrial countries to do studies as part of their “Year Abroad” programmes. This will enable students from developed countries to learn about the developing world by living within it and to carry that knowledge into their chosen careers. These exchanges may start with students from our partner schools at Salem and Andover.

The first Academy in Mombasa already has developed international linkages by incorporating the International Baaccalaureate Diploma Programme, or IB, in the junior and senior schools. The IB is currently offered by nearly 1,500 schools in more than 100 countries, and it has become the only truly international secondary graduation diploma. Students with the IB are accepted by more than 1,700 universities worldwide without further testing.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my profound hope the Aga Khan Academy in Dar es Salaam will represent a wonderful opportunity for young Tanzanians of exceptional talent. They will be able to pursue an education in the best of facilities with outstanding faculty and peers.

But no truly worthwhile opportunity comes without some risk. The risk we confront here is willfully to build an educational institution that dares to compare its students, curriculum, faculty and premises with the best in the world. We are saying that success will be based solely upon merit, judged against an international standard.

Once we accept that challenge, there will be no turning back. For one thing certain today is that best practices continue to evolve at a rapid pace in every discipline, education being no exception. A world class standard is therefore, by definition, a constantly evolving standard.

I have every confidence we are up to the challenge at the Aga Khan Academies. And I am just as confident that the exceptional students who will attend this institution will be up to the challenge as well.

One hundred years from now, I believe that our successors will look back at the founding of the Aga Khan Academies as an important milestone in the development of Tanzania and East Africa.