Prince Karim Aga Khan Tuesday called for global partnership and universal understanding in the face of forces that would dangerously fragment the world.
“We must resist the temptation to normalize any particular culture, to demonize the other, and to turn healthy diversity into dangerous discord,” he said at a foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy at Basundhara. Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, reflected on the importance of ethical commitments, not only in government but throughout society.
He said competent civil society is a major contributor to development particularly where democracies are less well established or where government efforts are inadequate.
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“The absence of corruption or fraud in government is not enough. Fraud in medicine, fraud in education, fraud in financial services, fraud in property rights, fraud in exercise of law enforcement or in the courts, are all risks which can have a dramatic impact on social progress.”
Terming the establishment of the Aga Khan Academy as a new national asset for Bangladesh, he said Bangladesh is the first Muslim country in which he laid a new Academy foundation stone.
The Aga Khan said three principles worked behind the setting up of the Academy, a centre of excellence. The first is the centrality of quality education as an element in the Islamic tradition, he said, adding world and faith are inseparable in Islam. Faith and learning are also profoundly interconnected.
“The Holy Quran sees the discovery of knowledge as a spiritual responsibility, enabling us to better understand and more ably serve God’s creation.”
He said: “Our traditional teachings remind us of our individual obligation to see knowledge unto the ends of the earth – and of our social obligation to honour and nurture the full potential of every human life.”
Prince Karim said the creation of a new Aga Khan Academy in Dhaka grows out of rich Islamic precedents. Secondly, he said the Academy is to integrate local and national culture and it will connect its students to global perspectives.
“The beauty of Creation is a function of its diversity. A fully homogenized world will be far less attractive and interesting.” He added: “The roots we inherit from our history – linking us to a particular past – are a great source of strength and joy and inspiration. And a sound education system help nourish those roots.” He said the Academies curricula, in addition to using English as a connecting language, will emphasize on comparative political system, global economies and global cultures along with the importance of pluralism and a sound ethical foundation.
Prince Karim said the Academy would educate for global citizenship. It will integrate each local school with others in the network, sharing ideas and experiences, exchanging students and teachers and affirming that all graduates have achieved a globally relevant credential in the form of the International Baccalaureate diploma. He said the Academy can flourish well in Bangladesh where a proud sense of independent national destiny is so often combined with a generous spirit of international partnership.
He said the Academies project would face an age-old challenge as it moves ahead – the challenge of balancing the universal and the particular – the global and the local – as influences in human life. “It has been said that the most important fact about modern communication technology is that it ‘universalizes the particular and particularizes the universal’ which suggests that local and global experiences are increasing intermixed.”
The Aga Khan said: “Such an intermixture can give us the worst of both worlds – hostile, defensive localism on one side and a superficial homogenized mega-culture on the other. Or it can give us the best of both worlds – proud local identities living side by side with creative international cooperation.
He said this issue could be resolved if future leaders are educated in Bangladesh and elsewhere to live creatively in such a setting. “Our new program of Aga Khan Academies is one response to that challenge.”
Education Adviser Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman and Prince Karim jointly laid the foundation stone and unveiled the plaque of the Aga Khan Academy.
Salim Bhatia, Director of the Aga Khan Academy, said the Academies in collaboration with International Baccalaureate organization and highly experienced educators from across the globe are focusing on the Academies curriculum to assure that what students learn is both relevant and rigorous and those born in another time learn to think critically for themselves for a lifetime.
He said the Academies curriculum would emphasize pluralism, ethics, Muslim civilizations, global economies and comparative political systems.
The students will be selected on merit and taught both in Bangladesh and English. Students of all backgrounds will have the opportunity to apply to attend the Academy in Dhaka irrespective of their ability to pay. It intends to scout for talent all over Bangladesh. The Academy will be built on 20 acres site. Once fully built the campus will comprise over 500,000 square feet of built space and playing fields to accommodate a wide range of sporting and athletic activities.
The Academy will share its intellectual and technological riches will be the in-house professional Development Center (PDC). The PDC will provide professional development program for teachers at government and other not-for-profit schools in Bangladesh.
Being a residential school, it will enable exceptional students of all backgrounds including the 75 percent of the Bengali population who live in rural areas to access a world class education.
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