Embracing new technologies and investing in innovation is perhaps no longer a choice, but a necessity. In line with this view, Imamat and Jamati institutions in Pakistan are harnessing the potential of digital transformation to improve lives across the region.

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) recently collaborated with the Government of Pakistan’s Special Communications Organisation (SCO) to open an IT Park in the Hunza District of Gilgit-Baltistan. The state-of-the-art facility — a first of its kind in the region — will provide a digital infrastructure with an uninterrupted power supply, high-speed Internet connectivity, and a co-working space for small to medium-sized enterprises, start-up companies, and freelancers.

The plaque unveiling ceremony was led by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Imran Khan, attesting not only to the significance of the programme in promoting socio-economic growth in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, but is also to the strong relationship between AKDN and the Government of Pakistan in pledging resources to promote the digital economy and IT infrastructure in Pakistan.

During the ceremony, the Prime Minister said, “I am pleased to witness the recent remarkable developments in the communication and information technology sector, which is reflected in the development of mobile services such as the launch of 4G and broadband services, as well as digital solutions related to cloud-based data centres, and these are all indicators of very positive progress in the region.”

Likewise, Jamati institutions in Pakistan, particularly the Aga Khan Education Board (AKEB), are also playing a pivotal role in enhancing knowledge and skills related to science and technology within the Jamat. One of the core priorities of AKEB is to promote interdisciplinary education in the Jamat by focusing on a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum. Adopted as a global best practice, the STEM curriculum can nurture the cognitive and psychological capabilities of youth by building critical life skills including creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, communication, critical and analytical thinking, digital literacy, and leadership.

Through various platforms, AKEB is preparing Ismaili students for STEM-related careers, currently in high demand in both developed and developing countries. For example, AKEB for the Central Region conducted an innovative virtual programme entitled ‘Scientists of Tomorrow’ during the Covid-19 pandemic for students in grades one to eight. The programme helped students to reconnect with education whilst schools were temporarily closed, encouraging them to use domestic resources for learning essential concepts in science, such as density and surface tension of water, wind energy, air pressure, acid rain, and more. Over 150 students participated in the programme, after which 13 participants also took part in the Global STEM Festival.

Similarly, AKEB for the South Region collaborated with ‘Science Fuse’ to launch the Year of Science for students in grades two to seven. Science Fuse is a social enterprise that aims to promote science education as an option for youth to spend their leisure time. The curriculum featured an eight-week project, introducing students to a new hands-on science topic or experiment each week. After the course, participants were inspired to channel their curiosity to learn more about science and research.

Recently, AKEB successfully adopted an approach to introduce robotics and promote STEM-based education. Robotic projects provide students the opportunity to unleash their creativity by working in teams to solve complex problems using a basic set of instructions and their own scientific knowledge. During the pandemic, a virtual robotics programme was launched in which 13 students engaged in online classes and physically convened together towards the end of the course to share their learning. Moving forward, AKEB aims to expand its robotics programme to encourage Jamati students to explore a wide spectrum of scientific concepts including distance, speed, principle of pulleys, inertia, elasticity, and more advanced computation and engineering concepts.

Through these initiatives, AKDN and Jamati institutions are unleashing the potential of science and technology and contributing to growing rates of digital literacy.