The 20th century writer William Arthur Ward once wrote that “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” On the occasion of World Teachers’ Day 2021, we celebrate the teachers and educators in our Jamat that continue to inspire us week after week, and thus help to positively shape the future of humanity.

A year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic, never have teachers been more needed than today. The educational disruptions and school closures caused by the global health emergency have confirmed the crucial role of teachers in maintaining learning continuity and pastoral care, especially during the formative years of a young person’s life.

The history of teaching can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greeks, and to Confucious before that. Over the course of time, teaching has transformed from a simple educational function into a complex profession in its own right. In Ismaili history in particular, the traditions of attaining and sharing knowledge have played a central role. 

“Our faith places great importance on the use of the intellect, to acquire knowledge, to better understand the world around us, to better serve the societies in which we live,” said Faisal Ali, a waezeen and Jamati educator from the UK. “Those who are engaged in the noble pursuit of imparting knowledge to others, play a vital role in helping lay the moral grounding through which we can all navigate ourselves in an ever changing world.”

Today, many members of the Jamat follow in this tradition. Despite being adversely impacted by the global pandemic, many continue to give of their time and knowledge in service of the Imam and his Jamat. Thousands of Baitul Ilm teachers, academics, camp facilitators, waezeen, and other educators, contribute to the learning of the Jamat, traditionally in-person and more recently, online. 

Along with parents, teachers are influential in helping children to acquire the values and basic principles of our faith. They play a leading role in the religious education and formation of children, and help to develop their understanding of faith as an integral part of life. Their efforts over the past year and more have meant that disruptions to the religious education of young Ismailis have been minimised.

“The entire teaching and learning experience has shifted from face-to-face interaction to virtual platforms, and it’s a very challenging situation, not just for teachers, but for students and parents as well,” said Samreen Ali, a secondary religious education teacher from Pakistan. “As teachers, we are trying to identify and experiment with various pedagogical tools that would help us make our interactions engaging and meaningful.”

By its very nature, the profession of teaching involves constantly adapting to changing circumstances; among young people, their societies, and the world at large. Through various programmes and initiatives, Imamat and Jamati institutions endeavour to support aspiring teachers to prepare for these changes.

With cutting edg​e and regionally relevant research and leading academic staff, the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development works to develop and support the professionalisation of teachers, educational leaders, and others working in the field of education, through nurturing innovation and improving the quality of education in the developing world.​

Similarly, the Aga Khan Academies network of schools has a Professional Development Centre at each of its locations, which strengthens the profession of teaching by investing substantially in teachers’ continuous development. They provide ongoing, collaborative training for Academy faculty as well as outreach programmes for teachers and head teachers from neighbouring government, private, and not-for-profit schools. 

At The Institute of Ismaili Studies, the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP) was developed to support and promote the need for professionally trained secondary level teachers within the Ismaili religious education system. STEP takes exceptional graduates and works with them to develop their skills and shape them into inspirational teachers and mentors.

There is still a long way to go to support future generations, within the Jamat and beyond. According to UNESCO, 69 million more teachers are needed in order to reach universal education in 2030. Moreover, tomorrow’s youth will be confronted with challenges greater than anything today’s generation has faced.

Yet, every long journey starts with a single step. Today’s teachers are making great strides nurturing children and adolescents, while positively contributing to shape the future of humanity. For their dedication and invaluable service, we thank them — they are an inspiration to us all.