Emmanuel Ndonga, a student at Aga Khan High School in Nairobi is a professional swimmer. “At a young age, I hated swimming with a passion to the extent of screaming and wailing as soon as I entered the pool,” says Emmanuel, who won the Most Outstanding Player of the Year Award competing with schools across East Africa in the Safaricom Sports Personality of the Year Award (SOYA) 2017.
Emmanuel realized that when he was in the water, he was outside his comfort zone. He learned to overcome that discomfort, and it was the feeling of overcoming that he loved more than anything else. “I love challenges,” says Emmanuel. “Nothing excites me more than a challenge and the feeling of overcoming it.”
The drive to conquer challenges is what inspired Emmanuel to continue training professionally through his International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, which only a few swimmers around the world have managed to do. “I’ve always looked up to my brother Samuel Ndonga who did the IB while continuing to swim competitively, this struck a belief within me that I could do the same.” Many people told him it was impossible, and that he should drop one or the other.
The inspiration worked. In 2015, Emmanuel set a 200m individual medley record of 2:36.31 (min). In August 2017, Emmanuel qualified to represent Kenya in the East African Secondary Schools Games Championships, where he broke his previous record by over 12 seconds. He has now gone on to win the Most Outstanding Player of the Year Award at the SOYA Awards.
Emmanuel sees himself competing in the 2018 World Championships in China and representing Kenya in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. His dream is to achieve an international medal for Kenya in swimming, joining Jason Danford as the only other Kenyan to have done so with a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Emanuel represents a growing pool of students across East Africa who have greatly benefited from the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES), a non-profit entity that coordinates education and schools in the region.
At the peak of East Africa’s colonial period, racial and religious segregation were common. In those days, Africans were not allowed to attend learning in schools where European or Asian population was based. However, one institution changed that system, that was through the Aga Khan’s intervention via the Aga Khan Primary schools.
The earliest Aga Khan Education Services School was built in Zanzibar in 1905. AKES schools were the first to admit students of all faiths, ethnicities and origins. These included the Aga Khan Primary and Secondary Schools, which were later, spread out to different towns and cities across the East Africa region.
The various schools included kindergarten and nursery schools offering basic education. Today, the Aga Khan Primary Schools offer foundational local education, while the Aga Khan Secondary Schools offer progressive middle level education.
In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, AKES operates as a not-for-profit agency dedicated to serving the students, parents and teachers of the region. Currently, it operates 18 quality schools in East Africa, catering to close to 7,200 students and employing over 500 teachers. The schools offer both national and international curriculums. It focuses on the provision of quality education.
Currently operating more than 200 schools and educational programmes, AKES provides quality pre-school, primary and secondary education services to students in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The foundations of the present system were laid by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, III, who established over 200 schools during the first half of the 20th century, the first in 1905 in Mundra and Gwadar in South Asia, and in Zanzibar in East Africa. Today AKES schools and programmes benefit over 75,000 students.
“Being part of the Aga Khan Education Services’ network means having access to a system of more than 300 high quality schools in various parts of the world, access to high quality training for teachers and school managers at the Institute of Educational Development at the Aga Khan University.” (excerpt of speech made by The Aga Khan at the opening Ceremony of the Aga Khan School in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 2002).
The Aga Khan Schools strive to create a harmonious balance between academic demands, sporting and cultural activities and community life. It challenges its pupils to be intellectually inquisitive and socially conscious. The School believes that while what students know is important, the true measure of a student’s education is the ability to analyse what they do not know.
“There are two more dimensions of education for the modern world about which I would like to make a few remarks. The first relates to inquisitiveness, critical thinking, and problem solving. What students know is no longer the most important measure of the quality of education. The true test is the ability to engage with what they do not know, and to work out a solution. The second dimension involves the ability to reach conclusions that constitutes the basis for informed judgements, said the Aga Khan during a speech he made at the opening of the Aga Khan School in Osh, Kyrgyzstan in 2002.
Developing critical thinking and analysis is therefore at the core of the AKES schools. The schools also encourage students to respect and appreciate other people’s cultures, social structures, values and beliefs. Taken together, these objectives are designed to help equip children with the tools they will need to make their way in school, society and an increasingly interdependent world.
In the Aga Khan Education Service Uganda (AKES, U) graduates live and work ethically, and to continue to serve their local communities in Uganda and abroad even after graduation.
Over the course of the IBDP programme, Aga Khan students have helped in the construction of classroom blocks in a number of schools in Uganda, visited homes for impoverished children and run donation drives for food, stationery and clothing.
In the neighboring communities, students lead health campaigns on malaria and prostate cancer which were carried out in cooperation with companies such as Kampala Pharmaceutical Industry, Aga Khan University, Uganda Cancer Institute, Makerere University Medical School, Habitat for Humanity, Uganda Wild Life Education Centre Orient bank and Diamond Trust Bank.
AKES Uganda has been operating the IB programme for 11 years. During this time, it has graduated 320 IB students. The School’s average IB score in 2017 remains higher than the global average.
The IB programme at AKES, U is lead by over 20 experienced and qualified teachers, of whom 15 are IB examiners. The quality of AKES, U IB program has been endorsed by many standard setters, including the International Baccalaureate Organistaion (IBO) during its regular assessments.
In Tanzania, the Aga Khan Education Services operates four schools, from nursery to secondary levels, in Tanzania. Each school aims to provide quality education that imparts a broad set of skills and knowledge and which develops independent and critical thinking abilities. The origins of the Aga Khan schools in Tanzania go back to the 19th century when a girls’ school was started around 1905 in Zanzibar.
Aga Khan Mzizima Secondary School was the most outstanding school in the 2018 World Scholar’s Cup (WSC), Regional Round winning over two hundred trophies and medals. The students secured top positions in diverse areas including Human Relationships, Literature, Art and Music, Social Studies and Science in this year’s theme of The Entangled World. Over 25 dynamic Mzizima scholars from Year 7 to IBDP 1 participated with amazing zeal winning the Best Junior Team award, the Best Debating for Senior and Junior Teams, and top awards in other components of the WSC such as Scholar’s Challenge, Collaborative Writing and Scholar’s Bowl.