Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the inauguration ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad
“Our purpose, as you know, is to educate the most talented young minds from many countries, for a global future.”
Your Excellency, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Shri Kiran Kumar Reddy
Your Excellency, Honourable Union Minister for Human Resources Development, Dr Pallam Raju
Staff and students of the Aga Khan Academies in Mombasa and in Mozambique
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is great joy for me to welcome you on this wonderful occasion. And I want to begin these comments by thanking the Chief Minister for his and his government’s support to the creation of this institution.
It was exactly seven years ago this week that we gathered here to lay the Foundation Stone for this new Academy. It was a day of great promise, and a day of great expectations.
Now, seven years later, we come back to this same, special place to mark a moment of important progress on our journey.
When we met back then, we spoke gratefully of the natural beauty of this setting – and we thanked the Government of Andhra Pradesh for its magnificent generosity in making this site available. Today, as we renew our profound thanks, I thought I might also say a word about why this particular site is so important for us.
Site selection and availability is critical to our whole concept of creating an international network of academies in Asia and Africa.
Our purpose, as you know, is to educate the most talented young minds from many countries, for a global future. One key to doing that would be to enable students and teachers to move from an academy in one country, to an academy in another country. But that of course would require a residential school system.
There was a natural concern in some countries about having children leave the family environment at an early age. But, on balance, we felt that parents would recognise the immense benefits of having their children live together in a multi-national environment, offering rigorous academic values, along with a rich array of non-academic, extra-curricular activities. Indeed, children probably learnt as much from contacts amongst each other and extra-curricular activities, as they do from formal classroom education. This concept has to include, as the Chief Minister said, the provision of ample sports facilities.
In sum, we needed large sites for each academy, with room for residences, dining facilities and athletic accommodation. And that would be difficult, we concluded, on a site of less than 50 acres. But that is not all we were looking for. We felt that the sites should also be near to major cities, but in areas that were unlikely ever to be aggressively urbanised.
All of these criteria were generously fulfilled by the land gifted here by the government of Andhra Pradesh. Thank you.
Since this gift was made seven years ago, we have searched for similar sites in other countries. I am happy to say that we have made good progress, and that we are now certain that we can implement our concept for a broad network of academies that will meet our campus criteria.
While site selection has turned out to be a critical matter for our programme, an equally important issue has been the criteria for what we actually build on each site. And here too, Hyderabad has set a wonderful example for the rest of the network.
This site has been developing beautifully – and for that we recognise today the creative powers of the Architect Bimal Patel, the Sasaki Master Planners, the educators who have guided the planning, and the contractors who have realised these visions. We congratulate them all, even as we honor those who are shaping our educational programmes.
Our foundation stone ceremony seven years ago focused on the word “Beginning”. Today, we are proud and grateful that we can talk about “Continuing”.
The network concept that I have mentioned is something that makes our academy endeavour a unique and distinctive one. And if there is one central thought I would like to have you take away from this day, it is the interconnected, international dimension of our envisioned academy experience.
Our planning is that there eventually will be 18 Academies, situated in 14 countries. I would not name them individually for you, other than to illustrate the amazing permutations of languages, cultures and personal experiences that such a network will offer its faculty, its staff, and its students.
The Hyderabad Academy is the second to be inaugurated, following the one in Mombasa, Kenya. Construction is now underway in Mozambique and active planning is taking place for Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. The other planned sites range from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to Uganda, from Tanzania to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from Madagascar to Mali, from Syria to Pakistan, and Portugal. When the programme is complete, our students will have the opportunity to speak and learn in Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Dari, Kyrgyz, Bengali, Swahili, Russian, French, English and Portuguese.
As each campus is developed in the months and years ahead, it will become a new link in a strengthening chain of Academies. This will be true not only for our students, but also for the designers of our path-breaking curricula, and for the teachers who implement these designs. The International Baccalaureate will be the standard curriculum throughout our network, but we intend to add five optional themes we consider essential for our students. These are optional themes that we have identified as being essential for the countries that I have listed for you, and amongst them, are comparative government and free market economics. To support this challenge, each Academy will have its own faculty Professional Development Centre, a rich pedagogical resource that will also be available to teachers from other state and private schools, as well as other schools that are part of the International Baccalaureate network.
In sum, we should think of this developing Academies Network, as a single, coherent institution, geographically dispersed but highly coordinated.
This systematic sharing, we are confident, will transform and elevate the quality of teaching and learning for everyone.
We intend, moreover, that our students should share not only in the broad resources of the Academy network itself, but also in the global activities of the Aga Khan Development Network. The AKDN, as you may know, works internationally in highly diverse endeavours – health care and medical science, agricultural development and urban renewal, business and finance, culture and education.
These far-flung AKDN programmes can be thought of as part of an extended global campus for the Academies. I think for example, of the rich experiences that our students of the Mombasa Academy already have enjoyed through entities such as the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme – learning there to think creatively about complex social and economic challenges, while also being steeped in a powerful ethic of service.
Another example is the interdisciplinary unit developed by two of our teachers right here in Hyderabad, based on the history of the Ancient Silk Route with its many constituent cultures. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has been particularly active along the Silk Route, including its Silk Route Music Initiative, with its emphasis on cross-cultural influence and collaboration.
Just two days ago, we were in Delhi to re-dedicate the restored Humayun’s Tomb, a monument of enormous cultural importance as is the Qutb Shahi complex which is being restored here in Hyderabad. Such restoration projects, we are convinced, can also provide splendid opportunities for education for the students of our Academies.
It has become commonplace to talk of an inter-connected planet, with global communities of trade and finance, science and medicine, governance and diplomacy, education and culture. It is our intention that our Academy graduates will eventually become accomplished leaders in all of these fields. But why should a profound immersion into global experience come only when one reaches the higher levels of education or actually begins a career? Why should world awareness and active international participation be thought of as something that is supplemental, rather than essential, to education throughout one’s early life?
We believe that our Academies network will foster a lively sense of world awareness among all its students. Our student body already includes people from a variety of economic and social backgrounds, as our financial aid programme enables us to admit excellent students without regard to their economic resources. Nor is admission geared in any way to the national, religious or ethnic background of any applicant. Our faculties will be similarly diverse. And, of course, the goal of global engagement will be powerfully re-enforced by the integrated flow of people and ideas among the various Academies.
The ongoing objective in all of this work is to provide an outstanding education for outstanding students – to prepare men and women of exceptional ability to meet extraordinary challenges. While our graduating classes should qualify for the best national and foreign universities, it is also our hope that they will strengthen the applicant classes to the two universities that we have created in the last quarter century – the Aga Khan University and the University of Central Asia.
Our engagement in education has been a long, continuing story. It is a hopeful and exciting story, a story of expanding impact all around the world.
And we are grateful to all of you for sharing with us today as this story continues to unfold.