Address by Professor Everett Standa
CEO and Commission Secretary, Commission of Higher Education
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi
Members of the Board of Trustees
President of Aga Khan University, Mr. Firoz Rasul
Graduands and students
Parents and Distinguished Guests
Thank you, President Rasul, for inviting me to address the Convocation. It is an honour and a privilege to be part of this auspicious event celebrating the graduation of the Class of 2011.
To the Graduands, congratulations to you and your families. Your accomplishments are a source of pride for you, your University and indeed your country. The spirit that inspired your achievements today illustrates your commitment and vitality and we are buoyed by your success. It is a day to celebrate this achievement and the promise of what is to come.
Seeing you here today reminds me of my own graduation and I am proud to see the next generation of East Africans graduating from an East African university of international repute, ready to work and serve in the region.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, His Highness the Aga Khan, for his unparalleled contribution to the development of the education and healthcare in Tanzania and across East Africa. Indeed, the commitment of His Highness and his family to the region dates back more than 100 years to the time of his grandfather Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah. During this time, Kenya has benefitted enormously from the establishment of schools, hospitals, health clinics and initiatives for economic development and cultural preservation by the Aga Khan Development Network and its many agencies, including the Aga Khan University. These initiatives have improved the well-being of Kenyans by helping to raise school participation and literacy rates, lower child and maternal mortality rates, and improve quality of life indicators.
AKDN`s hospitals and schools in Kenya have also served a larger purpose. By establishing healthcare and educational institutions in Kenya that meet international quality standards, AKDN has set the bar high for other health and education organizations. Most significantly, it is providing a critical pool of well-qualified, skilled doctors, nurses and teachers in the region.
Now, as Kenya and the East African Community experience significant population and economic growth, we can anticipate that the demand for quality healthcare will continue to grow. The key to meeting that demand will be our ability to continue to raise the competence levels of our nurses and doctors. As experience will teach us, providing quality healthcare, in any capacity, has more to do with the healthcare professional than the shiny hospitals and fancy diagnostic machines; what makes a difference in patient’s life when they are suffering is the knowledge, skill and compassion of the doctor or nurse taking care of them.
Moving to education, the demand for quality education is high and growing and must be met in order to develop a successful society. In the past 30 years, Kenya’s youth literacy rate has risen to 80% and, as primary and secondary school education programmes have taken hold, the demand of Kenyan children for quality education at all levels has increased. In particular, with a youth population of 24 million in Kenya, higher education is a pressing concern. If we consider these statistics in the context of the four other EAC countries with similar situations, the need for higher education to provide viable employment prospects and improve quality of life is immediate and urgent.
Meeting these demands will be a challenge. As my personal experience establishing a programme for private students during my time as Dean of the Faculty of Education at Moi University will attest to, solutions to these challenges will need to be innovative and uncommon. We must be able to leverage the opportunities across the region to generate creative solutions that increase the access of people in rural and urban areas to high quality education and healthcare. Only if we can meet the demand for intellectual and economic fulfillment, will we retain bright young minds - such as those that sit before me today, and be able to stem the brain drain from this region.
This starts by introducing leading teaching and learning practices in the classrooms across the country. But it does not stop there.
We must be able to equally implement fair and transparent evaluation systems for students and limit the financial burden of education through bursary and loan programmes. These steps will ensure that all students, whether they come from Eldoret to Malindi have an equal opportunity to access higher education and that they are well prepared for the rigours of that course of study. Our governing bodies for education must also recognize the need to establish quality standards for our institutions – not only in Kenya but across the EAC. For, it is through these standards, that we can cultivate highly-sought and employable graduates who can move freely across the national borders of the EAC in pursuit of those opportunities.
I am pleased to see the progress of AKU’s new principal campus in Arusha, Tanzania and the Graduate School of Media and Communications as well as the recent opening of the leading-edge Heart and Cancer Centre here in Nairobi. These speak to the continued concern and commitment of the Aga Khan Development Network and the Aga Khan University, in particular. Our hope is that these new campuses, programmes and services will again play a pivotal role in the development of the higher education sector - just as the earlier Aga Khan schools and hospitals did. It is important for East Africa’s higher education sector to be able to entertain a mixture of private and public universities and colleges. A variety of institutions enables us to meet the needs of a wider section of our population and furthers our progress as a nation. In fact, if it were not for the innovation of AKU’s programmes, many of our graduates would not be sitting here today and Kenya would have lost an opportunity.
Graduates, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in your lives. Your accomplishment is a testament to your intelligence, focus and determination. And it is my aspiration for you that as you take on the next challenge, as I know you will, that you will choose to engage these qualities and the excellent skill set you have gained at AKU in the service of Kenya. This country needs your enthusiasm, knowledge and abilities.
Before I end, I also want to recognize and congratulate the faculty at AKU who have nurtured you on your academic journey to this day and the families that have stood behind through all of it. They have demonstrated tireless patience and persistence in helping you to realize your dream. They deserve our recognition, appreciation, and congratulations.
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