Shamim Ali belongs to Shishkat Gojal. She is pursuing her Masters degree in Social Policy and Management from Brandeis University, Boston. She got the opportunity to attend an education forum held at Harvard University, during which Princess Zahra shared the experinces of AKDN in developing worlds. Shamim wants to share her expereinces of the forum with the readers of Pamir Times. Editor_.
Princess Zahra Aga Khan delivered a lecture on “Education in the Developing World” in a forum held on Tuesday, May 13 at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Ali Asani, Professor of the Practice of Indo-Muslim Languages and Culture of Harvard University was also accompanying her. Prof. Ali Asani a notable Ismaili scholar holds a joint appointment between Near Eastern Languages and Civilization (NELC) and the Study of Religion. He also serves the faculty of the Dept. of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. He has taught at Harvard since 1983, offering instruction in many languages such as Urdu/Hindi, Sindhi, Gujrati and Swahili as well as courses on various aspects of the Islamic civilization.
Princess Zahra highlighted three main issues in developing world. The issues, she described were, lack of child-centered education and grave situation of women rights in Muslim societies. She also identified the threats facing local cultures under the influx of globalization as a main issue facing the developing world.
She said that quality and relevance are the two main aspects of education in contemporary world. “lacking in either”, you will never produce a culturally independent society.” She shared an overview of the Social Welfare Department of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) founded by her His Highness the Aga Khan.
Princess Zahra presented four different case studies “Warts and all” of AKDN undertakings. The main points in these stories were the importance of quality and relevance.
She also shared the AKDN experience in Pakistan which was a cautionary tale of unintended consequences. She said that AKDN started initiatives in education in the isolated region of Northern Pakistan during 1970s. “When my father visited in the 1960s, he went in on a mule.” The state provided education for boys – and so the AKDN offered education for girls, and very successfully, in many ways. She added that literacy in some of these regions is touching 100 percent. She said the seismic-proof school buildings could also be used for many other purposes especially during emergencies.
“But the basic challenge is, once you have an education, what do you do with it?” The daughters of traditional Pakistani villages whom the network was serving were “not about to migrate to the cities … and men don’t like wives who are more educated than they.”
Princess Zahra added, “You could call this the pain of change …… but we could have been more thoughtful in this. … We now run schools for boys, too.”
In another case study, Princess Zahra shared the story of the AKDN’s involvement in Madrassas, the Islamic religious schools, in East Africa. The slides flashing across the screen behind her showed images of little girls in nonthreatening pink robes. She said that these Madrassas are not producing terrorists as doing in many countries of the world. The curriculum of these Madrassas are focused on ethics, morals, and philosophy as well as meets the demands of the national education system in which the children would continue their education.
What the AKDN has offered, Princess Zahra said, is “child-centered education using low-key available materials – adding to the curriculum, not changing it.” As a result, the children continue more successfully into the national schools when they are ready.
And there were other benefits as well that led to the development of civil society and more respect for women’s rights: “What happened to these Madrassas on the east coast of Africa, and the respect the teachers received, improved the standing of teachers in their communities.”