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Speech by Princess Zahra Aga Khan at the 20th anniversary of the Mombasa Aga Khan Academy 2024-02-19

Tuesday, 2024, February 20
Princess Zahra Aga Khan visits Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa on the 20th anniversary   2024-02-19
Princess Zahra Aga Khan

Princess Zahra speeech at the Mombasa Academy 20th anniversay
Feb 19, 2024, 6:46 PM


Respected representatives of the Ministry of Education, Kenya and the Mombasa County Department of Education,
Students, parents, staff, alumni of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends of the Academy.

Good morning and welcome to this day of commemoration, celebration and hope.

I want to thank Salim Bhatia for being with us today. Salim was the founding director of the Academy's program and laid the foundation’s building blocks for this program. So thank you for coming a very long way. Thank you, Salim.

On behalf of His Highness the Aga Khan and the Aga Khan Schools, let me start by thanking all those in Kenya and in East Africa whose support has enabled us to meet today on this auspicious occasion.

We're extremely grateful to the Government of Kenya and all levels of authorities who have provided such crucial assistance in establishing this academy. Without their trust and friendship, our strong and enduring partnership with Kenya and its people would not be possible.

Kenya is a country where my father spent much of his childhood and has played a central role in the life of the Ismaili community and so many activities of the AKDN - Aga Khan Development Network.
Over 20 years ago, my father had a vision for an integrated network of schools, the Aga Khan Academies, which would provide life-changing educational opportunities for young people who were selected to become our students. Much thought and planning were devoted not just to starting a new school, with this academy in Mombasa being the first, but to what we wanted our students to be in the world, to achieve for society by being inspired by such schools.
The Academy Mombasa has been the test bed, which has now extended to three other sister academies and more widely to the Aga Khan schools around the world.

The vision of the Academy was captured in His Highness's inauguration speech in December 2003, here in Mombasa. I quote, he said, “everyone who joins the establishment of a new school participates in an act of joyful hope and faith.”

A new school looks to a better world for it exists to help students develop the character, intellect, and mental resilience that will enable them to prosper in circumstances that we can only imagine. If it becomes a great school, it will educate its students not merely to be personally successful, but also to use their gifts to build their communities and enhance the common good to levels beyond our dreams. Schools are optimistic places, although young people go through many challenging transitions in their lives.
We aim to make the academy a positive and memorable experience for all, one that helps young people to set the right course for their lives and build their character and attributes as leaders. The purpose of schooling here then is not merely to support students to pass exams, to enable them to enter the next phase of their education. Of course, exams are important, but the academy embarked on a broader ambition, one that's at the heart of the Academy's work for the betterment of society.

Here I was supposed to tell you about the curriculum, but the students and teachers have done that very well already. So I'll simply say that the curriculum at the academy, as many of you know, is centered in the IB curriculum, but it's enriched by the five strands that we heard about in the film. And I think that's of great benefit and much appreciated by the parents and the students.

As we all know, an excellent education is a broad one, developing the interests in arts, culture, sports, as well as academics, but it also needs to be meaningful and relevant. As we saw in the film again, the extensive service learning program is local and sustainable and improves the quality of life of others. It also allows our students to demonstrate their growing leadership skills and values.

The residential program here also enriches the lives of our students, and there are 22 nationalities represented amongst our student body, 60% of which are Kenyans. As they graduate, we expect our alumni to lead in their chosen pathway, to have a strong ethical orientation, a sense of personal discipline and civic obligation, and an appreciation for diversity and pluralism, seeing diversity as a strength, while being guided by the values of pluralism.

As we also saw in the film, teacher development is a key component here.

The professional development that happens in this academy has really had an impact on schools across Kenya and more broadly across our own school system around the world. The professional development center is a key component of improving teaching and learning in Kenya, East Africa, and all around the world, and going forwards, I hope we can grow that to even greater heights, working with the other institutions in the network. Also, the academy has been engaged in partnership with the government of Kenya to adapt the competency-based curriculum, the CBC.
The academy is a center of excellence with a secure 20-year foundation. We'll contribute by sharing its expertise in building capacity in others.
Today, integrated educational technology enables all our schools and programs with connectivity to be linked.

Students in Central Asia should be able to talk to their peers in Mombasa, sharing lessons and exchanging ideas. The internships that our grade 11 students here, supported by our sister agencies, epitomize the opportunities our students have thanks to the broad scope of the wider agencies of the network. As society changes, schools need to evolve in harmony with those changes.

Schools and their leaders must be able to project the kinds of skills and attributes today's students will need after graduation, and this is, of course, no easy task. Schools can struggle to stay relevant to the changing needs of students, and guidance and wisdom are needed in our technology-dominated world. The ability of chat GPT and other artificial intelligence tools makes plagiarism even more easy if we are not resilient and insistent on the values of academic honesty.

However, the advent of AI also unleashes huge opportunities for inquiry-based learning and creativity. With the pressures on young people, we also need to deal even further with our health and wellness services to support adolescent safety and well-being from early childhood development to university and beyond.

Finally, I wish to thank all those who have made the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa what it is today.

The students, alumni, parents, friends, supporters, and the leadership of the academy, past and present, and our many collaborators. I'm grateful to the leadership of the academy, the Aga Khan schools, to Kenya and the Kenya Education Services, the Education Services Board, for all of your help in hosting us here today and arranging today's celebrations.

This academy has laid the groundwork and set the example in implementing my father's vision for creating excellent schools which graduate the inquiring, ethical, and dedicated leaders of tomorrow.

Thank you.

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