What does Education mean?

The truth is, edutacoin does not mean anything at all. In fact, when you Google “edutacoin”, you are met with a suggestion to mean “education”. But say someone you knew was only able to pronounce it as “edutacoin”. Would you see them as right, or wrong? And would you change your mind if they surely meant – but still could not pronounce – what you call “education”?

Education has many different meanings to many different people. In this article, we suggest one meaning of education to you. This meaning is grounded in the history of Ismailis, particularly in Tanzania, and in guidance from Hazar Imam. It offers that education is about a holistic perspective, with an appreciation for improvement over excellence. It also suggests how communication and practice outside school can support learning.

An enabling history

Ismailis have always had a tradition of learning. Hazar Imam, similar to previous Imams and Prophet Muhammad, has regarded education as being a means to improving the quality of life of the Jamat and its surrounding communities.

As a result, the Imamat invested deeply in learning at all levels, within our Jamat and in the public. Several institutions have been set up to provide education in different regions of the world, such as the the Madrasa Program, The Aga Khan Academies (AKAM), The University of Central Asia (UCA) and the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS). The approach to learning at each of these institutions varies, depending on language of instruction, purpose of qualification, and the prospect of future employment.

Having a holistic approach

Children need to develop holistically with the critical thinking and analysis skills that will help them thrive in future economies. In a speech during the opening ceremony of the Aga Khan School in Osh, Kyrgystan, Hazar Imam said:

“Education comes in many forms, and has been used for many purposes. An education
for success in the modern world must be enabling and it must be outward looking.”  

The word “enabling” here refers to the kind of knowledge that supports society in reaching its potential. As the global economy changes, today’s needs will be different from tomorrow’s needs, and jobs will change. We should not only put emphasis to the learning of reading, writing and assessing through time-testing but also consider other ways to promote the holistic development of our learners.

In the same speech quoted above, Hazar Imam outlines two ways of learning for the modern world. The first way is to build inquisitiveness, critical thinking and problem solving. This determines how learners engage with what they do not know, and how to find solutions. The second way is to question how we know what we know. This grows an awareness of what kind of judgments we make about the society we live in, and on what basis we make them. Both ways contribute to the formation of a learner’s social consciousness. And it is this consciousness that builds holistic capacity; an empathy to understand how ones community relates to the world.

 The growth mindset

In a holistic approach to education, what is “right” and what is “wrong” becomes relative. Every children has the ability to learn and grow through dedication and hard work. This is called the growth mindset. When students and educators have a growth mindset, they understand that intelligence is developed through influence, and doesn’t come as given.

Students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are. They work hard to learn more and get smarter. This view of learning creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports, among other fields.

Communication matters

Though our Jamat is global, Hazar Imam has emphasized learning the English language. English is now a global medium of communication, connecting people across cultures.

It is also very difficult to achieve credibility as a community in Tanzania without having a strong grasp of the national language, Kiswahili. The language has strong roots in Bantu and Arabic, and the history of the Swahili Coast is closely linked with that of the Middle East.
Therefore, students in Tanzania ought to learn and be able to communicate in both English and Swahili in order to contribute to the society and its culture effectively.

Learning outside the classroom

Learning occurs beyond the school walls, and parents need to capitalize on that. Learning happens during extracurricular activities, in Khane, during social gatherings with friends, at trips to the market.

Some activities that parents could drive that support learning include:

  • Taking children to their workplace for the day to understand business.
  • Giving age-appropriate tasks at home that allow for the child to get involved and engaged.
  • Organizing expeditions to the National Museum or other local events in the area.
  • Engaging children on nutrition tips or basic math at a local supermarket.
  • Enrolling children in community leadership positions that require interaction with neighbors.

Such activities are great for learning: They build content in the students’ mind that is not always “right” or “wrong”, but that provides a realistic picture of the world in which they live. These are also great resume-building opportunities, which help with securing university admissions!

Education is not a fixed formula of great ideas. For us, education is purpose-driven, and is created by the community in which it takes place. The Imamat has built institutions that create enabling environments for people of various backgrounds to learn and work together. We’ve adopted this institutional view of learning, and highly recommend it as a holistic approach to learning. We also recommend keeping a growth mindset, emphasizing communication skills, and keeping up learning outside school.

The Aga Khan Education Board (AKEB) seeks to improve the cognitive, critical thinking and communication skills of young people and their families across Tanzania in order to better prepare them for future economies. Programs include design workshops, professional mentoring, school advisory, institutional collaboration, tutoring and one-on-one counseling. Members are available the AKEB office at Darkhana every Saturday from 3 – 5 PM, and can also be reached at [email protected] or on +255 714 511 115.

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