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Aga Khan Education Services (AKES)’s history in Eastern Africa is a long and interesting story of educators responding to historical, political and social change. It starts with literacy classes in small community centres in the early 1900s, proceeds to the pioneering of the “service company” concept in the 1970s and arrives in the new millennium in the form of an international network of schools of excellence.
During the colonial period, there was discrimination in both the content and quality of education. Different races went to different schools and used separate curricula. For communities whose children were ineligible for missionary schools, options were extremely limited. One option was for a community to develop its own means of teaching essential skills.
AKES traces its origins in East Africa and the Indian Ocean region to classes set up by the Ismaili Muslim community to teach children basic literacy and numeracy. In places considered remote even today, from Kendu Bay and Homa Bay (in Kenya), to Lindi and Sumbawanga (in Tanzania), Arua and Gulu (in Uganda) and Marovoay and Mahajanga (in Madagascar), community volunteers taught primary school age children in a “multi-class” format. The earliest such centre may have been started in Bagamoyo in 1895. After 1905, these centres became better organised by local and provincial Education Boards appointed by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan (the present Aga Khan’s grandfather and predecessor as Imam), and one of the first formal schools was established in Zanzibar in 1905.
In the 1920s, colonial authorities, having eventually recognised the need for the schools, began providing some funding for Indian communities to set up schools. The findings of a private Educational Commission chaired by Princess Joan Aly Khan (mother of the present Aga Khan) led, in the 1940s, to a revised structure and the establishment of more Aga Khan primary and secondary schools in the 1950s (Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Nairobi). Schools for girls preceded those for boys.
Concern for quality remained paramount. Teachers and principals were recruited in India and in the United Kingdom. Growing in number and size over the next decades, Aga Khan Schools in East Africa numbered at least sixty by the early 1960s. Premises were generally custom-built and included laboratories, libraries and playgrounds. Schools, although initially mainly patronised by Ismailis, were the first to open their doors to people of all races and faiths. In pre-independence East Africa, the phenomenon was not merely innovative; it was little short of original.
Independence in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in the 1960s increased educational and other opportunities for disadvantaged communities. However, with the expansion and emergence of new national identities, new challenges emerged.
Aga Khan Schools in Africa
The first Aga Khan Education Service Companies, incorporated in 1979 in Kenya and in 1986 in Tanzania, introduced improved resource management, better coordination and professionalisation of the academic and educational policies. Curricular reform was a principal challenge for Aga Khan Schools in East Africa during the 1980s. Kiswahili has, since 1967, been the medium of instruction in all Tanzanian primary schools whereas secondary and tertiary education continued to be provided in English. Recognising a desperate need of students seeking to enter secondary schools and aspiring to higher education both locally and abroad, AKES helped devise transitional curricula in English, History, Geography, Mathematics and Science. This pioneering approach has since been adopted by state schools in Zanzibar and southern Tanzania.
AKES’s schools in Kenya, faced in the 1980s with the introduction of the “8-4-4 curriculum,” responded with additional facilities to the reconfigured sixteen-year educational programme. This increased the number of years of primary school to eight and of university education to four, while reducing secondary education from six to four.
Aga Khan Schools were also amongst the first to introduce computers into schools in Kenya in 1982. Technical and financial support from the Aga Khan Foundation enabled expansion of this technology to government schools across the country. In 1992, the return by the Ugandan Government of AKES properties that had been nationalised by the Government of Idi Amin led to the extensive rehabilitation of the Aga Khan School Complex on Makerere Road. The complex now houses pre-primary, primary and secondary schools. All are now fully under AKES management.
While the main focus of Aga Khan Schools is generally the national curriculum, some schools also offer international curricula such as IGCSE and IB to cater to the clients’ demands. Three schools, one each in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam, offer the IB Diploma programme. Plans are at an advance stage to obtain authorization for the IB PYP curriculum at these schools.
School Improvement Programme
School Improvement Programmes (SIP) launched by AKES during the 1990s are strengthening the quality of teaching and resources in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Teachers from some 170 schools in Kisumu and Mombasa (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), most of them government schools, benefit from the training workshops and resource centres set up under these programmes. SIPs are helping teachers to teach more creatively and children to learn faster through the introduction of child-centred activities. They involve working hand in hand with governments while involving parents and communities in management in order to make schools more efficient, effective and sustainable.
International Academic Partnership
The International Academic Partnership (IAP) benefits East African schools through faculty exchanges and enhancements in library and information technology resources, in the application of computer-assisted learning and in innovative approaches to teaching subjects such as English, science, mathematics and economics. IAP’s objectives are to promote global education and student-centred teaching, with a particular focus on professional development for teachers and curriculum innovation.
Since its founding in 1993, IAP has linked over 400 schools in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States.
Find out more about the International Academic Partnership
Aga Khan Academies
The Aga Khan Academies will be a network of schools dedicated to an international standard of excellence in all aspects of educational. The first Academy began operating in Mombasa in 2003. Sites under development for additional Aga Khan Academies include Antananarivo, Madagascar; Bamako, Mali; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Maputo, Mozambique; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Hyderabad, India; Karachi, Pakistan; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Kabul, Afghanistan; Khorog, Tajikistan; Osh, Kyrgyz Republic; Damascus, Syria; and Salamieh, Syria.
Find out more about Aga Khan Academies