Your Excellency President Rakhmonov, Your Excellency Deputy Chairman Koimdodov for the Majlisi Olli, Your Excellency Chairman Nyazmamadov, Your Excellency the Mayor, distinguished guests.
We gather this afternoon to open the first formal educational program undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network in Central Asia. I thank you President Rakhmonov for your kind words on this special occasion and for your encouragement.
I would also like to thank your Excellency and the Government of Tajikistan as well as Chairman Nyazmamadov and the Hukumat of the Gorno-Badakshan autonomous Oblast for their assistance in moving the development of this program forwards. My thanks also to all those who through their hard work have contributed to making this day possible.
(Then Hazar Imam addressed the translator and said, "And now Zarina you have to listen carefully").
Every time I come to Tajikistan I learn something new from President Rakhmonov, and one of the things is to stop reading speeches and just speak one's thoughts.
I would like perhaps this afternoon to pay compliments to men and women who were teachers in this school in the most difficult circumstances that human professionals could function in. There was a time when male and female teachers could not get to the school because the students could not get to the school because they had no shoes to walk in the snow. And all through these terrible times of poverty, professional men and women did everything they could to sustain the educational system of Badakshan. I think therefore that it is appropriate that at the beginning of this speech I should pay My compliments, My respects and My gratitude to the teachers who have kept education alive in Badakshan.
The opening of the Aga Khan Lycee is an important moment for the Network, one of a number of outcomes of more than three and a half years of its work in Tajikistan since My first visit to the country in 1995. I am confident that its programs will make a significant contribution to the efforts of the Government to build on the remarkable achievements in education of the Soviet era and to prepare the generation who will shape Tajikistan well into the next century.
But this is no easy task. The provision of all social services is confronted by the painful transition to new economic realities in the country. The education sector has the additional burden of preparing students for a different and rapidly changing world. Responding to these challenges will require the development of new approaches and models for virtually every aspect of Tajikistan's educational system, its organisation, financing, curricula and pedagogical practices.
The Aga Khan Education Service is honoured to assist in this process. We have a long-standing commitment to education which has yielded a great deal of valuable experience that can be drawn upon as new programs and institutions are developed here in Tajikistan. At present the Aga Khan Education Service operates more than three hundred schools in eight different countries and has launched a highly innovative pre-school program in several countries in East Africa. Other educational institutions in the Aga Khan Development Network include the first fully private university in South Asia, one unit of which is a widely acclaimed Institute of Education Development. The Institute is providing training programs designed to assist established teachers to develop and adopt new teaching methods and materials.
(Hazar Imam then turned to the translator and said, "Zarina I am now going to ad-lib again")
In recent years there has been an absolute revolution in education. This revolution in education is driven by a number of new concepts. First of all communications, the capacity to bring education through the new electronic networks to the most isolated parts of our globe. The second one is the extraordinary volume of knowledge which each individual has to absorb during his or her lifetime. And therefore the necessity for continuing education. I consider it essential that these new technologies, these new methodologies of education should be made available to the most remote communities wherever they are located in Tajikistan or elsewhere in Central Asia.
The new Lycee represents another important component in the Network's contribution to educational development in the country. In addition to providing assistance with school improvements, educational materials and teaching training, the Aga Khan Education Services' experience shows that it is critical to develop centres of excellence that reach for the highest levels of student achievement. This is a means to develop models and set new standards for other secondary schools in a given country and to prepare students for the most competitive universities in the world. The opening of the Aga Khan Lycee as an academic program is particularly timely given the plans for the development of the new regional university in Khorog.
I am afraid the time does not allow Me to describe all the other distinguishing characteristics of the Lycee and its programs. But I would like just to signal a few of them because they are important for the future of education in Badakshan. His Excellency the President mentioned that this was going to be a test-case institution in Badakshan where we will be testing new methods of education, new principles of education to try to bring into Badakshan the most sophisticated methods of education for young people. Some of the principles on which we will function will be that education – and there will be an emphasis in education in the English language - to enable graduates to access the wider world of education and market economies. Information technology to enable teachers and students to better understand and communicate with the world around them. Ongoing opportunities for teachers to improve their pedagogical competencies, the collection of fees to ensure the sustainability of the institution, but as a reverse to that – the provision of financial aid to all admitted students on the basis of need. In other words it is the academic potential of students that will earn them the position of this school not their material means.
I ask you to join Me in wishing this exciting new academic initiative every success for its development. I trust that in the years ahead we will look back on the opening of the Aga Khan Lycee in Khorog as the beginning of something very important for Khorog, Tajikistan and perhaps even Central Asia.
As His Excellency the President said, if we are successful here then there will be something important learnt for other educational institutions all over Tajikistan.