Speech by Salim Bhatia
Salim Bhatia’s welcoming remarks, Mombasa
Mombasa Residential Campus Foundation-Stone Laying Ceremony
August 14, 2007
Chief Guest: The Honourable Professor George Saitoti,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
The Provincial Commissioner,
Your Worship the Mayor,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you today to this Ceremony for the residential campus of the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa.
I am particularly happy to welcome our Chief Guest, the Honorable Professor George Saitoti, Minister for Education for Kenya, and salute his role in the development of the Government’s policy to provide free primary and now free secondary education in Kenya.
At this time, we envisage a network of 18 campuses across 14 countries in East Africa, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. Once fully developed, the network of Aga Khan Academies will be teaching 20,000 students who possess the potential to become future leaders of civil society. The 505 students at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa are at the front of that line. A first step in the process of developing the network of Academies is to make the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa the best school possible since it serves as the flagship for the others that will follow. Our first cohort of students took their International Baccalaureate Diploma exams in June, and they performed well. Their overall average was nearly two points above the global average. 2 of the 22 students who took the exams scored in the top 3% of the 180,000 students globally, and 4 of the 22 scored in the top 10%. We are proud of their accomplishments and of the quality of education they received at this school. A remarkable aspect of this achievement is that very few of the faculty who taught these successful students had prior experience teaching the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Through their dedicated hard work and the Academy’s strong commitment to professional development, our faculty has become accomplished teachers as measured by a global standard.
I am proud to congratulate our faculty and school leaders on this occasion.
The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, swim team is one of the top teams in Kenya and includes two national champions. The Academy’s extensive community service program has established vital links to neighboring communities.
While the IB Diploma results provide an objective, globally based measure of our students’ academic performance and while their athletic prowess can be measured by record-breaking times and winning scores, ultimately we hope that the qualities that are harder to measure – qualities of strong ethical leadership, self-discipline, a pluralistic outlook, and civic responsibility — are those that will distinguish Aga Khan Academy graduates.
Clearly, His Highness’s commitment to establishing this broad network of world-class schools represents an enormous investment of material and human resources. This commitment stems from the conviction that provided a world-class education, exceptional students from any background can fully achieve their significant potential and in so doing improve their lives, the lives of their families, their communities, their country, and the world. One reflection of His Highness’s commitment is that the fees families pay today cover less than one-half of the actual cost of education. In addition, many students receive some level of financial aid.
Our gathering here today commemorates the fact that the Academies model is still under construction in Mombasa. In order to realize its full impact, the Academy must have the capacity to accommodate students of all backgrounds from across Kenya.
Today’s ceremony marks the beginning of the transformation of the Aga Khan Academy from a high quality day school serving Mombasa-area students to a national school serving talented students of all backgrounds from across Kenya. Represented here today to celebrate the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, becoming a national school are the Directors of Education from all the Kenyan provinces, whom we are pleased to welcome. Transforming the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa into a residential school is an acknowledgement of the richness of learning and personal growth that occurs in a purposeful and joyful residential school environment. We are confident that with up to 60 faculty members living amongst them, the 312 residential students will receive the attention they need to mature and learn. The best residential school environments are those that expect the most of students in terms of behaviour and leadership, places where peer influence is a positive factor, and where students mature into well disciplined, principled, and happy young adults.
The Aga Khan Academies will form a network, and it is particularly appropriate that the first Academy in the network be established in Mombasa. This city has for many centuries served as a vital node in the commercial and cultural trading network around the Indian Ocean and beyond. Pluralism is a central value of the Aga Khan Academies network; after all, future leaders of civil society must possess the ability to appreciate diversity and negotiate difference as leaders of the Mombasa community have managed to do for centuries.
The network of Aga Khan Academies is envisioned as a sort of intellectual trading network with nodes in prominent cities in four distinct regions across the globe. The common currency of the network is high quality education, and the capital is human capital. We will “trade” best practices; take advantage of local expertise and individual institutional strengths; exchange teachers and students to enrich their learning; and pool resources to enhance the quality of teaching across the network. Our network expands beyond the Aga Khan Academies to government and other schools in East Africa that will be served by the Professional Development programmes originating here. The network also includes our well established partnerships with top-quality schools and universities in other corners of the world. This sort of trade with partners regionally and across the globe is a great Mombasa tradition. Instead of the “flagship,” one might call the Academy in Mombasa the “leading dhow” in the network.
It is especially meaningful to gather here in Mombasa early in this, His Highness’s Golden Jubilee Year. We reflect with awe on the institutions His Highness has created and strengthened in Kenya and elsewhere over the past half century and the contributions those institutions have made to the quality of life for all Kenyans. Based on that legacy, we can confidently look ahead fifty years from today and envision the excellence of the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, an institution that we hope Kenyans from all backgrounds will come to view as a national treasure. I speak for all those involved in the establishment and strengthening of this excellent institution and the network of Academies in thanking your Highness for your inspiring leadership, for your gift of identifying important human needs, your commitment to tackling them with creative, bold initiatives and staying with them until the solutions are institutionalized.