Inauguration of the Professional Development Centre, Northern Areas, Pakistan
October 19, 2000
Your Excellency Mr. Abbas Sarfaraz Khan, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas,
Your Excellency Mr. Kurt Juul, Administrator & Head of the European Union,
Your Excellency Mr. Yannick Gerard, Ambassador of France
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is a special moment for the cause of education in the Northern Areas. I am aware that some of the programs of the Professional Development Centre have been in operation for over a year. But the inauguration of this fine new facility is highly symbolic. It signifies the dawn, inshallah, of a new era in the quest to bring quality education to the children of this region.
Organizations such as the Aga Khan Education Services have been involved in this quest for many decades. But thisthe opening of thethis Centre today represents a giant step forward. Its programs will provide teachers with opportunities to enhance their effectiveness and advance their careers. And it will enable communities to look to their schools to attain higher standards of student achievement, and better use scarce resources. Trainees will receive certificates from the Aga Khan University's Institute for Educational Development on completion of their courses, which will be conducted by members of the Institute's faculty. I would like to congratulate everyone who has been involved in bringing this important endeavor to fruition. I would especially like to thank the European Commission for providing the funding for the construction of the Center's facilities and its core programs for its first ten years of existence. Thank you very very much indeed.
I would ad an adlib comment here, which is to say that you can builds new buildings but if you cannot find quality men and women to implement the programs and to give them the confidence that their programs will be able to continue and grow in the future you've achieved nothing. So the grant from the European Commission enables us to have that confidence for tens years into the future and that is enormously important. Thank you again.
I would like to go beyond thanking the European Commission for providing the funding that made the development of the Centre possible. I want to commend the Commission for its commitment to addressing development problems that remain crucial in much of the developing world, even though they have disappeared in most of Europe. I would take your time for a minute to explain the background to this PDC.
We have been working in Pakistan for many years and Pakistan fortunately like many other developing countries is moving to what we call a merit based educational system. This is good for the country. But we found that the children from Northern Areas were being increasingly marginalised in a merit based educational system because the quality of teachings throughout the Northern Areas was insufficient to allow young boys and girls to complete in a National merit based educational system. This was a regional issue. It had nothing to do whether the schools were private schools or public schools, how long they had been in existence. It was a regional problem.
Secondly, it was not specific to Pakistan. There are a number of countries, such as the countries of eastern Africa, where for historic or other reasons communities, have failed to develop educational system that allow them to maintain their position in merit based educational system. So the problem that we were seeking to address is this. What could be done for education in the Northern Areas that would improve the quality of education right across the Northern Area so that the young men and young women of this part of Pakistan would be able to develop their future, sustain their opportunities in a merit based educational system? That was the problem. And the answer is behind me.
The problems facing isolated rural communities in countries like Pakistan are almost overwhelming. The logistical difficulties of providing social services in such settings are themselves staggering. Serving remote and dispersed populations poses challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff, maintaining morale, providing necessary material on a timely basis, and adjusting programs to suit local conditions and requirements. If one then adds to address issues of quality and continuous improvement, you add to that need, the necessity of quality, the degree of difficulty is multiplied several times over, because the goal is not simply to provide education, its to provide quality education so that the young boys and girls can succeed in merit based system.
The mission of the Professional Development Centre is to do precisely this for the primary and secondary schools in the Northern Areas. The Commission's willingness to make a major investment near a small town in the region to be served, rather than a major city somewhere else in the country, in both perceptive and farsighted. The existence of a well designed and well-equipped Centre will add to the status of teaching as an important and modern profession amongst the local population, thereby helping the recruitment from the region itself. The location will actually reduce the time and travel that trainees will have to undertake to participate in the Centre's programs. An example is that in the past quality teachers had to leave this area to improve their professional knowledge in order to serve better the population of the Northern Areas. Equally important, it will eliminate the need for them to confront the social and cultural differences between rural people and city dwellers, between uplands and lowlander that are found everywhere in the world. The location will make it easier for women, particularly for those with family responsibilities, to make full use of the Centre's opportunities for training and professional advancement. It will also increase the potential return on research programmes because faculty and trainees live in or near their "laboratories", rather than having to make extensive field trips to visit them. And here again I would to emphasise the notion of research. The peoples of Pakistan are very diversified. The areas is which they live are very different and unless research is carried out it will be impossible to focus education in curriculum training on the particularities and the idiosyncrasies of the needs of education in various part of the country
Without the establishment of institutions like the Profession Development Centre, rural populations have no hope of succeeding in this world of increasingly rapid change. Many observers have expressed concern that the gap that has always existed between villagers and city dwellers, will actually be exacerbated in the new globalising economy. Without a solid education at the primary and secondary level, young people will be deprived of any hope of choosing new futures. Where there is no hope, disenchantment and alienation often follow. If the PDC is successful, it should help schools in the Northern Areas close the gap for at least some of the young people of the region.
It is a source of great satisfaction, even pride, that the Commission has chosen two Pakistani institutions, the Aga Khan Education Services (or AKES as we insiders call it) working in close association with the Aga Khan University's Institute for Educational Development (or AKU-IED) to undertake this important mission. AKES has had decades of work, as you have heard, in the Northern Areas. AKU-IED, that's the Institute of Educational Development, has operated highly innovative and successful teacher training programmes since 1993. AKU-IED, that's the institute, is also the beneficiary of major grants from the European Commission, including a new grant covering the period 2001 and 2006 following a very positive evaluation. I would like again to repeat my gratitude to the European Commission, because in giving the university this grant they are sustaining the Resources Centre – The Professional Resource Centre – to which the PDC here and, inshallah, maybe other PDCs in Pakistan in some future time will relate for professional competence. The AKU and its Institute's involvement with the Professional Development Centre presents a wonderful opportunity for them to fulfill their obligations of outreach and their mission to focus especially on the development of women professionals. But the Commission's choice of AKES and AKU-IED to launch the Professional Development Centre also places a heavy responsibility on them. I suggest that they should assume that many sympathetic but watchful eyes will be upon.
I think that the Professional Development Centre has a genuine potential to make a significant and lasting impact. In terms of human resource development, investing in teacher training has the potential for greater returns than any other social sector initiative. The ripple effect that a teacher can have as he or she touches the lives of hundreds of students over the years provides a multiplier that even the sharpest businessman would envy. The structure and focus of the PDC's programme provides a further multiplier. The training of teacher educators will ensure that other teachers in their schools or nearby schools will benefit. The training of educational managers and instructional leaders will address the need to make the best use of available resources. In addition, a "Whole School Improvement Programme" has been specially developed for the Northern Areas, which will have teams moving from valley to valley to reach all schools, government and private, in a comprehensive manner.
Let me emphasize again, so that it is clearly and widely understood that the Centre will serve the needs of government schools as well as those operated by non-government organizations. This is a distinctive and positive feature. It breaks down the traditional divide between the public and private sectors. This divide has existed for too long, and actually has been a burden on all round improvement of education in the country. The goal is to enable and reward teachers, to stimulate new thinking about what they are teaching and why, about teaching material and the delivery of the contents of curricula, and to make the best use of personnel and facilities through improvement and management across all the schools in the region.
I need not remind this audience that Islam places special importance on the value of education. Learning is ennobling. Teaching is one of the most valued professions because it opens minds to greater self-awareness as well to the knowledge that gives learners greater control over their destinies. In addition to what the Processional Development Centre should do for the quality of teaching in it is catchment area, it introduces teachers, and by example others, to an experience with life-long education with all of its potential for potential development and satisfaction.
I convey my very best wishes for the success and further development of the Centre and its programmes to everyone involved in its oversight, management and programmes. You have been given the very best facilities and support with which to work. If you are successful, as inshallah you will be, your work will have a major impact on the quality of education and the status of the teaching profession in the Northern Areas.