Education in small literacy classes has evolved into an international network of schools of excellence

Aga Khan Academy Mombasa (Image: The Teelgraph)
Aga Khan Academy Mombasa (Image: The Telegraph)

Like each of you, personally, the University also remembers its heritage on a day like this. That heritage is rooted in the rich history of Islamic intellectual accomplishment – including the work of my own ancestors in ancient Cairo 1000 years ago, when they founded the Azhar University and the Dar-ul-ilm – the House of Knowledge. This story continued over several centuries, as Muslim centers of scholarship and culture involved and inspired people of many traditions and faith communities….It was this heritage that inspired my grandfather, as Imam of the Ismaili Muslim community, to make education a top priority. In fact, he started the first Aga Khan School in Africa over 110 years ago in Bagamoyo, here in Tanzania. And that same legacy was in our minds when we began planning for this new Aga Khan University.”

His Highness the Aga Khan, Convocation of the Aga Khan University, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
February 24, 2015
Speech at

The intellectual tradition of the Fatimid Caliph-Imams continues with the work of the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES), under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). AKDN’s education efforts in Eastern Africa arose in response to unmet educational needs during the colonial era. Its history begins in the early 1900s with literacy classes in small community centres to teach children basic literacy and numeracy. The earliest such centre started in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, in 1895. After 1905, these centres became better organised by local and provincial Education Boards appointed by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III. One of the first formal schools was established in Zanzibar in 1905. In 1918, Aga Khan III established the first Aga Khan Boys School in Mombasa, Kenya, and the first Aga Khan Girls School in 1919, also in Mombasa.

Through its Madrasa Pre-School Programme, the Aga Khan Foundation is supporting the creation of locally owned early childhood centres in Tanzania, as well as Uganda. The Programme was first implemented in 1986 after Muslim leaders from Kenya’s coastal region requested assistance in improving the overall level of educational achievement of their children.

AKES currently operates over 200 schools and advanced educational programs that provide quality pre-school, primary, secondary, and higher secondary education services to students in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Tajikistan.

In 2000, His Highness the Aga Khan initiated the establishment of the Aga Khan Academies, an integrated network of schools in countries across Africa, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. The aim of the Academies is to develop future leaders with the skills and knowledge to support positive development in their societies.

Campuses of the University of Central Asia (Image: UCA)
University of Central Asia
(Image: UCA)

Continuing the intellectual tradition, His Highness the Aga Khan established the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, as well as the University of Central (UCA), the world’s first internationally chartered institution of higher education. AKU, which was granted its charter in 1983, maintains its central campus in Pakistan with teaching hospitals in East Africa and the United Kingdom. UCA was founded in 2000 by the governments of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, and His Highness the Aga Khan; its  mission is to promote the socio-economic development of Central Asia’s mountain societies, while helping the diverse peoples of the region to preserve and draw upon their rich cultural traditions and heritages.

In 2007, His Highness the Aga Khan announced plans to build a new university campus in Arusha, in north-eastern Tanzania. The legacy continues.

Extracts from
The Aga Khan Schools, Eastern Africa
The Aga Khan Education Services
The Aga Khan Academies
Farhad Daftary, Zulfikar Hirji, The Ismailis, An Illustrated History, Azimuth Editions in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2007

Research by Nimira Dewji

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