Education for the future must be a blend of problem solving and creativity

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people's lives and sustainable development. Major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrolment rates in schools particularly for women and girls.

Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals.

Lack of quality education, in some cases in South Asia, as reflected in low learning levels, traps many of its young people in poverty and prevents faster economic growth and more broadly shared prosperity.

The governments and the private sector in the region had recognized that they must now do more to improve the quality of education in schools, after having achieved tremendous progress in increasing schooling access over the past decade.

Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) Resident Diplomatic Representative to Bangladesh Munir Merali hosted a visit to Hyderabad last week for senior Bangladesh government officials for an experience of the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad (AKAH).

As part of a journalists' contingent travelling with the government delegation, I had the opportunity to see the benefits and impact that an Academy can bring to its local, regional and national context, before plans to build just such an academy are implemented in Dhaka.

I met Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, a dual British and Australian citizen, who is currently serving his fourth year as the head of the academy at the AKAH.

With 24 years' school leadership experience running national and international schools across six continents and eight countries including India, Dr Fisher has held leadership positions in independent institutions in UK, Egypt, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands and twice in India.

While talking to Dhaka Courier, Dr Fisher has laid emphasis on quality of teaching and leadership to give students a better future in the highly competitive global environment as the education sector has undergone many changes over the past years.

"I can say the quality of school leadership and quality of teaching both have a significant impact on student achievements - be that in the use of technology or other measures," he said.

Dr Fisher, however, said he does not see it as his place to advise the policymakers in Bangladesh when he does not know the circumstances that Bangladesh education sector is facing.

Responding to a question on Bangladesh, the expert said he does not think it lacks the quality. "I think it is lacking diversity. Mass learning in Bangladesh and India is done with one method. There is information, learn it and reproduce it."

"They need to learn the information but how it connects other pieces of information and how you can make that connection a constructive and creative way is important. And how do you use technology in such a way you can help protect our world from pollution perspective, from sustainability perspective and from population perspective," Dr Fisher explained.

He went on saying, "What we've to do - we need to continue to work to get better [outputs] and come up with new ways of doing it."

Asked about Bangladeshi students in the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad, Dr Fisher said, "We've excellent Bangladeshi students - caring and interesting young men and women who work very hard for their future."

He said they (Bangladeshi students) are interested to develop their own skills, interested to assist others develop skills. "I think, South Asian culture, particularly in Bangladesh and India, has the 'strong family', people represent here the whole family."

A similar Aga Khan Academy will be established in Dhaka within the next three years. Asked about what benefits it can bring for Bangladeshi students, Dr Fisher said the academies are founded to be examples of excellence and centres of excellence.

"By providing leadership and examples then we hope to have an influence that is much broader than just through the teachers and students who form part of the immediate community," he said.

The educator who believes that education for the future must be a blend of problem solving and creativity skills, said he has seen so many changes in the world. "In education particularly, I would say the changes surrounding now are beginning to really have impact."

Dr Fisher laid emphasis on the needs of the future - what are the teachers' need and mentioned that teachers now challenged by many ways who were never challenged before - challenged by the use of technology in education and other things.

Talking about students, the future leaders, he said, "You have to be prepared to be an ethical, purposeful, truthful leader. Not just leadership."

He said they need to work very hard as they teach leadership, teach other lessons to understand what does it mean to be a leader and practice leadership. "Willing to exercise what you have learned is another key part. We think, we'll see the benefits, may be not today, not immediately."

Asked about lacking in South Asian education system, he said he thinks all countries around the world there has been emphasis on memory.

"A good learning has been regarded as having a good memory. I think now the emphasis is changing," Dr Fisher said.

He said memory is partly important part of good education but it also involves creativity, it also involves connecting different types of knowledge and understands different sources.

Aga Khan Academy, the fourth of its kind, will be located on a 20-acre of land at Bashundhara in Dhaka and will enroll 750 students with a capacity to expand to 1,200.

Sister Academies have already been established in Mombasa, Kenya (2006); Maputo, Mozambique (2013) and Hyderabad, India (2011).

The Academy will be part of an integrated network of world-class schools of Aga Khan Academies offering an international standard of education to promising students from pre-primary to secondary levels, located across 14 countries regardless of their ability to pay.

A tour of the 100 acre campus and its world class infrastructure was followed by a series of engagements with students; management; faculty and the Academy senior leadership team.

Interactions with students from India, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Afghanistan as well as those on full merit scholarships from underprivileged backgrounds opened the door to a robust conversation.

"Even though the number of students that pass through the Academies may be limited, and even though the number of teachers trained through our Professional Development Centre may be limited, I want you to leave with the knowledge that the potential of the Academies to bring about change is unlimited," Dr Fisher said.

"The countries in this region want to become powerful nations, and the Academies are a force for good that can help achieve that aspiration through raising homegrown, ethical and effective leaders committed to bringing about positive change in their respective societies."

Munir Merali shared that the intention of this visit was to build a cadre of 'champions and well-wishers' within the Bangladesh government who would understand the scope, mandate and potential impact of the Aga Khan Academies global network, and who would then enlighten their fellow colleagues in the government.

"We cannot explain what is unique about an Academy until you have experienced it. The new Academy in Dhaka will be one of the AKDN's most significant projects in Bangladesh, and we are only responding to the support you have already offered by sharing the vision of our programme through this trip," he said.

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