By Dr Mir Afzal Tajik
This article is on behalf of the thousands of young men and women of Chitral who were fortunate to study at the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED) in Karachi and/or its Professional Development Centre in Chitral, to express our respect, love and gratitude to our beloved mlma mater on its 25th anniversary.
As proud graduates of this glorious institution, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate AKU-IED on its Silver Jubilee (25 years of excellence in education) and share with our valued readers its many valuable contributions not only to our personal and professional growth but also to education in Pakistan in general and Chitral in particular.
The Institute for Educational Development (IED) is an integral part of the Aga Khan University which is the first private university chartered by the government of Pakistan in 1983. The university’s vision is to become “an autonomous,international institution of distinction, primarily serving the developing world and Muslim societies in innovative and enduring ways”.It draws its values from the“Islamic ethics, humanistic ideals and the philosophy of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)” for promoting “intellectual freedom, distinction in scholarship, pluralism, compassion and humanity’s collective responsibility for a sustainable physical, social, intellectual and cultural environment.” The University offers post-graduate, graduate, undergraduate, diploma, certificate and continuing professional education programs and research of international quality in the areas of nursing and midwifery, medical sciences, education, histories and cultures of Muslim societies, and communication and mass media studies. It has campuses and teaching sites in six countries in three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe). With its 2,213 current students, 14,245 alumni, and 13,300 faculty and staff, the University not only produces top quality doctors, nurses, educators and other professionals, but it also makes an annual economic impact of Rs.103 billion(about 1 billion US Dollars), and supports 42,000 jobs in Pakistan.
AKU-IED was established in 1993 to address the continued decline in the quality, effectiveness, and relevance of education in Pakistan and other developing countries.It aimed to address these issues through offering a variety of academic programs of international standards but responsive to the local needs, high quality research and scholarship, engagement with policy makers, and leadership and service to educational institutions and community at large. The purpose of these programs was to build individual and institutional capacity of schools and higher education institutions and ultimately raise the status of teachers and teaching profession in Pakistan and other developing countries. It drew upon the best practices, research-based knowledge and expertise of internationally acclaimed universities, such as the University of Oxford in UK and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto in Canada, for developing high quality academic programs, research studies, faculty development program, and continuing professional education courses. Through a strategic partnership with these international universities and collaboration with several educational institutions in both public and private sectors in Pakistan and other developing countries, AKU-IED has developed over 36000 teachers, teacher educators, and educational leaders through its PhD, MPhil, MEd, Advanced Diploma, Certificate, and Continuing Professional Education programmes. The graduates and participants of AKU-IED programmes have influenced the professional practices of over 300,000 teachers and educators within Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Realizing the talents in young men and women of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan and the absence of quality educational institutions to harness the human potential available in these rural, mountainous regions, AKU-IED established its first Professional Development Centre (PDC) in Gilgit in 1999 and the second centre in Chitral in 2003. Although there were increasing demands for these centres from all the countries mentioned above, the then leadership of AKU-IED gave first priority to Gilgit and Chitral. Since their establishment, the PDCs have made most valuable contributions to improving the quality of education through building capacity of teachers, head teachers, and education managers in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. Around 5000 teachers, teacher educators, and educational leaders have directly benefited from the professional development and school improvement programs offered by PDC Chitral alone. The basic philosophy behind the education programs offered by AKU-IED and its PDCs is that the quality of education cannot be improved without improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools, and the quality of teaching and learning cannot be improved without improving the quality of teachers in the schools. Therefore all programs offered at AKU-IED and its PDCs aim to develop the “teacher” as the key agent of change in schools.
Chitral is lucky to have a critical mass of young men and women with PhD, MPhil, and MEd degrees, diplomas and certificates received from AKU-IED. As of 2017, there are 75 MEd and MPhil graduates, six PhDs,and thousands of diploma and certificate holders and other beneficiaries from AKU-IED and its PDC in Chitral. Of the six PhDs, three pursued their doctoral studies at AKU-IED, whereas the other three, who studied in Canada and Australia, are actually the graduates of AKU-IED’s MEd program. These graduates are providing key leadership roles in both the public and private sector education in Chitral. These roles include,for example, the first female Executive District Education Officer, education officers, principals and subject specialist working in the district education department in Chitral, Head of Research and Publications at the University of Chitral, Head of PDC Chitral, General Manager, and heads of academic programs and field offices at AKES,P Chitral. Some graduates are providing leadership at various reputable institutions within and outside Pakistan. When AKES,P started its schools in the early 1980s, there was hardly any candidate with a BEd diploma to lead its schools in Chitral. Today, it has got over 50 AKU-IED graduates leading its schools and academic programs. Several school principals and subject specialists in the public sector schools, and some senior officials at the district education office Chitral are the graduates of the MEd, Advanced Diploma and Certificate in Education Programs offered by AKU-IED and its PDC in Chitral.
For us, the graduates, AKU-IED is more than a place where we studied. This was a place where we not only experienced and learnt how to achieve excellence in our academic endeavors but also learnt and practiced how to be a good human being. Unlike other universities in Pakistan where students from Chitrali and other rural areas are very often looked down upon by faculty, fellow students and staff, at AKU-IED,we enjoyed respect, care, equity, and humanity in a pluralistic, multi-cultural environment. In fact, students from Chitral and other rural regions were encouraged and supported to be in the forefront of all academic and social activities at AKU-IED. For many of us, it was shocking to see the Director of the Institute standing in the queue behind his driver and secretary and waiting for his turn to get food in the Social Area. This was the place where students were made to believe that they could achieve excellence in their studies and personal and professional growth regardless of the education, economic and geographic backgrounds they come from. This was proved by the fact that many students with very modest education and economic backgrounds from Chitral completed their degree with “High Distinction” and outperformed local and international students from affluent backgrounds. What made this possible for us, Chitrali students, was the enabling environment of AKU-IED where everyone was trusted, respected, encouraged, and supported to identify their hidden potentials and excel beyond their imagination.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our beloved Alma matter in July 2018, we graduates offer our most sincere felicitation to this “house of wisdom and humanity” and pray for its continuous success. We are proud of being associated with AKU-IED,which is now known nationally and internationally for its invaluable contributions to education, research and scholarship and services to communities in regions where it works. Its contributions are seen and recognized in Pakistan in the National Education Policy- 2009, the Transformation of Teacher Education Programs (ADE / BEd-Hons), National Continuous Professional Development Qualification Framework, Sindh Education Sector Plan, National Accreditation Council of Teacher Education, Curriculum Reform at Federal and Sindh level, Development of Textbooks for Sindh Textbooks Board, Developing Education Acts such as; Sindh Teacher Education Development Authority, Free and Compulsory Education for 5-15 years old, Sindh Education Commission, Sindh Examination Commission, Sindh Teacher Education Policy, and Federal Ministry of Education Advisory Committee. To pay homage to this grandeur Institutions, we would like to dedicate to it the following lines:
Welcome to AKU-IED, to a wonderful place,
Where there is so much tolerance for every race.
Where you hear ‘thanks’, and ‘sorry’ all over the place,
Wherever you go, you have your freedom and space.
Where you see people from around the globe,
And each one of them has a question to probe.
Where student find the Thesis time hard to cope,
But every hard work leads to success as they hope.
Where studies can make some students ill,
And even faculty cannot sleep without a pill.
Where some students enjoy summer and going to hill,
Others face the “heat” and go to the sea-side to chill
Where freedom and socialization is considered cool,
If you do not know the rules, you can look like a fool.
Where stress is released by going to gym or swimming pool,
But for people who can’t swim, “patience” is the survival tool.
Where studies are tough, and exams are not easy,
The library and labs are packed and make you dizzy.
Where you can find some courses pretty ‘cheesy’,
But the “Professors” know how to keep you busy.
Where many students think of themselves to be stars,
Most of them do their homework while sitting in coffee bars.
Where study tables are decorated with cookies and coffee jars,
No one cares whether you commute by Bus or drive fancy cars.
This is AKU-IED, oh dear,
Never fear what you hear.
Make up your mind and just cheer,
Get ready and go to IED this year.
Published in ChitralToday on Jan 4, 2019.
(The writer currently teaches as associate professor at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan).