SPEECH BY HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN At Sherquila to the Education and Housing Boards - 1983-05-14
Your Excellency, Mr. Ahmedali Merchant, Members of the Education and Housing Boards, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It gives Me the greatest pleasure to be here in Sherqilla for a ceremony which is a milestone in the progress of the Diamond Jubilee Schools both in the Northern Areas and in Pakistan as a whole. I was deeply sorry that the uncertainty of the weather prevented Me from coming here in March. However, the disappointment helps to make today much more memorable.
The Aga Khan School, Sherqilla, is a project of which everyone in the Jamat and in the village can be proud.
Mr. Ahmedali Merchant has already thanked some of those individuals most prominently involved and reminded us of how generously land was donated and how the whole village contributed to the construction. This school is a marvellous example of what voluntary effort can achieve, and I congratulate most warmly the members of the Housing Board on completing it on time and within budget. To have done this is a remarkable success by any standards. Countless aid projects all over the world fall behind schedule or overrun their budgets. The achievement here at Sherqilla should give everyone confidence in the abilities of the people of the North.
Voluntary helpers have been the heart and life-blood of the Diamond Jubilee Schools ever since they were started by My beloved Grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan. He would be delighted to see how the volunteers, from members of the Boards down to spare-time workers, have helped improve the standards of education in the Northern Areas. Without them we would not be here today and I express again My deepest gratitude to them.
The school has been described as a 'prototype' and I should like to comment briefly on our hopes for its future.
It is a prototype because the design has been adapted to the environmental needs of the Northern Areas. It takes account of such factors as the heavy weight of snow on roofs in winter, of extreme temperature changes, of the need to make structures strong enough to withstand seismic shock. The design has the flexibility to allow for expansion of the school as the demand for education changes and grows. The building is also intended to be the model for other schools in the area. Though not all will be as large as this - and we are now instituting a pilot programme for assisting villages where people's determination to improve facilities is leading to self-help school construction projects.
This school is not the consequence of a haphazard decision. Quite the contrary, this school is the result of demographic surveys which we have been carrying out since the late 1960's. These surveys which were generously participated in by the local population, enabled researchers to obtain a genuine grassroots comprehension of the Northern Area problems and how the quality of life here could be improved. The information from the surveys gave the Imamat the capability to plan programmes and institutions which would address those problems, both in terms of how many people they affected and how long their difficulties might last.
Furthermore, we came to the conclusion that in defining those problems - whether of health, of education, or of housing or employment - we were looking at issues which were not exclusive to the Ismaili community, but affected all people in the region.
It was on the basis of such research and reasoning that we decided to build this school. The project had to be considered with great care because we were investing capital in a building whose useful life would be 25 years at the very least and which, as I have said, would be a prototype for other schools.
Thus the Aga Khan School at Sherqilla is the result of calculated policy decisions which have allocated limited resources to the areas of greatest need. These and other development decisions have been made against the background of the governmental and international effort which is being devoted to improving the quality of life in the Northern Areas and I must express My happiness that both national and international organisations have recognised the philosophy behind our Aga Khan development programmes, such as our Rural Support Programme and our Teacher Training Programmes.
The building of the Karakoram highway, which was a magnificent feat of engineering in itself, has opened up the entire region to the outside world and to great possibilities. The Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Health, Education and Housing Services have extensive plans for the future in this region, which they are coordinating fully with the Government. Of the tens of millions of rupees which the Aga Khan Services devote to Pakistan, no less than 80% is being spent in the Northern Areas.
No one would wish to deny that centuries of isolation left the Northern Regions a long way behind the rest of the country. It is only right that the gap should now begin to close. It will close all the faster if the people of all communities in the North accept the necessity of properly planned growth and of making their own contribution to local development to the utmost of their ability to pay for it and to support it.
Five years ago, when this Sherqilla School was first thought of, only a small number of girls were interested even in primary education. Secondary education was hardly spoken about. Since then the demand for school places has grown dramatically. Almost unbelievably, the number of students enrolled in 117 Diamond Jubilee Schools in the Northern Areas has increased by 56% since 1976.
This expansion has created enormous pressures on our school network. This new school will be able to take girls from pre-primary to middle levels, that is from classes 1 to 8. In the future, I expect it to be expanded to take secondary level students. For the time being, however, secondary education will still have to be obtained elsewhere, for which the Central Education Board will continue to provide appropriate assistance through its scholarship programmes for girls from all regions who want to continue their education up to matriculation. And of course, the best girls from this school will have the chance of going on to the Aga Khan Academy which we are building at Karimabad. I have mentioned the pressures on schools because I believe there will be great demand for places here at Sherqilla, especially in the lower grades. And if we are to succeed we will have to adhere to the admission policies prescribed by the Central Education Board.
Let Me explain this briefly. We are determined to maintain a high standard of teaching in our schools. Taking more pupils means finding more staff and that, in turn, means training more local people from the North to take over teaching posts in the future.
I said local people because the Northern Areas cannot depend forever on the South to provide teachers. I know that many local parents would like to see more female teachers in our schools here. But this will only be possible if the parents themselves encourage the brightest of the children to enter the teaching profession and if others who have gone South, return to help their institutions.
Teachers are the leaders in developing a nation's intelligentsia, without which a country cannot generate its own progress, either cultural or economic. We are extremely fortunate that Miss Rehmat Mevawalla and other qualified female staff have agreed to come up from Karachi to work in this school. Miss Mevawalla will help to establish proper teaching standards, select girls from our school network for further training, and interview new teachers. This school has excellent buildings and I would like here to pay tribute to Mr. Dideir Lefort. But buildings alone do not make a school. Good teaching makes a school. We must always aim for the highest quality possible in our teaching and this is why we are inaugurating a Teacher Development Programme in cooperation with the Government.
This does not mean that we should forget the buildings. They need to be fully utilised and their design enables exactly that to take place. There is no need for the buildings to be closed when the children go home; they can be used for teacher training, for adult literacy classes and for vocational courses.
It is My sincere wish that the school should be a focal point for productive activity by the people of Sherqilla.
In conclusion, I would like to remind you that this school is one result of our Central Education Board's 1979 to 1983 five year plan. Before long the next five year plan will be coming into effect prepared on the basis of careful studies and in full collaboration with the Government.
I hope that when we renew our survey activity for this next plan, that people will again respond as constructively as they have in the past. Collaboration is the key to the Aga Khan Development programmes in the Northern Areas and we intend to continue to demonstrate its value in rendering service to the people of the region. It is My deepest hope that in the years ahead everyone in the North, of all communities, will abandon debating what makes them different and divides them, what sets even single villages against each other - and instead will join forces in attacking the fundamental obstacles to improving the quality of their lives.