Research Portfolio



Research at the Aga Khan University is current, influential and innovative. Featured here are selected works of our researchers and faculty that have drawn local and global acclaim.​
If you have a research story to share, write to us.

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AKU contributes to global initiatives for women's, children's and adolescents' health 

The Aga Khan University is involved in supporting and advocating for the integration of newborns’, children’s and adolescents’ health in the new global goals and in the development of major international reports launched at the United Nations.




Strengthening Education Systems in East Africa (SESEA) is a large-scale, five year (2013-2017) regional education project working in targeted geographies in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
Supported by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, SESEA is implemented by the Aga Khan Development Network in partnership with the respective national governments at all levels and fully aligned with the governments’ agendas of improving quality of education.

The overall objective of SESEA is to improve the learning outcomes of boys and girls, particularly in literacy and numeracy, at pre-primary and primary levels. Besides capacity development and training, it has a strong focus on inquiry and research on key issues in education in the East African region. Through a continuous and iterative process of dialogue, community engagement and dissemination,  it is ensured that the lessons learnt and in-depth experience in the field are shared with policy makers, educators, stakeholders and community at large.




Knowledge creation, knowledge mobilization and impact:
Research with a conscience 

The faculty at Institute for Educational Development, East Africa is engaging in research on salient issues of relevance and significance to education in sub-Saharan Africa.  Largely, this is applied research undertaken with a deep consideration for impact at the grassroots level.

For example, in the course of formal education, two transition points are significant for learners in terms of their participation and retention. First is the transition from home to school, where irrelevant curricula and dearth of contextual learning materials often alienate the young learners. Investigating the role of parents and community in sustainable literacy practices in the early years, a team of researchers from IED EA led the project ‘Early Literacy Development for Sustainable Schooling in Southern Tanzania’sponsored by the programme Strengthening Education Systems East Africa (SESEA) funded by DFATD Canada and AKDN. An outcome was the development of 10 highly contextual story booklets for initial literacy development. The stories were generated by parents and the community in remote, rural Southern Tanzania and therfore, close to the sphere of experience of the young learners. Development of booklets was informed by rigorous and grounded research and the booklets were piloted in the field. Of these 10 booklets, 7 are in Kiswahili and 3 in English, with 3 of them also produced in Braille format.

To ensure that these booklets are used in public primary schools, it was important to get them reviewed and approved by the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE), a government body for approval of textbooks and reading materials. After the approval ofTIE, IED EA is now working with SESEA to print several thousand copies to be introduced in all public primary schools in Southern Tanzania where AKF (East Afirca) has introduced ‘Reading to Learn,’ a programme on literacy development: A phenomenal contribution of research to practice at the grassroots level!

The second significant transition occurs when learners progress from the primary to the secondary school. In Tanzania, this is also marked by a change in the language of instruction from Kiswahili to English, and high dropout rates. The recent expansion in mass schooling means that most young people are the first generation in their family to access secondary schools. Yet, textbooks currently in circulation use dense text and expect a high level of proficiency in English from the users.

Aimed to support transition from primary to secondary through development of textbooks in biology, English and mathematics for students in the first year of secondary schools, IED EA collaborated with Bristol University UK and the University of Dodoma, Tanzania in the research project ‘Language Supportive Teaching' funded by the PSIPSE project. IED EA led the component for mathematics involving: developing sample textbook chapters informed by research (e.g. age and grade appropriate vocabulary); testing and refining the materials for their language and pedagogic appropriateness; and capacity development of the staff at TIE and teacher colleges. These sample textbook chapters have now been provided to the participating teacher college for use in initial teacher education. They have also been provided to TIE for incorporation in the textbooks for public schools. Once, again the potential impact is national, reaching out to all schools where TIE prescribed textbooks are being used.

- Professor Anjum Halai


Unearthed site reveals another story

 Dr Stephane Pradines, Associate Professor at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations led an excavation that has unearthed a treasure trove of discoveries. The excavation was coordinated by the French Department of Cultural Affairs (Réunion) and supported by the ISMC-AKU and Conseil Général (Mayotte).

The dig on the tiny island of Mayotte, part of the Comoros archipelagos in the Western Indian Ocean, is held every year with the aim of understanding settlement patterns and discovering more about the people who lived and traded in this part of the world. This year, the team found large quantities of rock crystal fragments, chips and flakes of different sizes.

The Mayotte site is world-renowned for its rich history and this discovery has far reaching implications for accurately pinpointing trade routes and settlement patterns. Dr Pradines explains: “Objects can’t lie!  We discovered a range of artefacts, for example ceramics, which mean that we can be much more certain that there was active trade between this area and the East.  Previously we needed to rely on written accounts – and they are not as reliable.  This latest discovery helps us to be much more certain about the exact international trade routes at the time than we could be when relying on manuscripts alone. What struck me the most, is the complexity of international trade in the Indian Ocean in the early Middle Ages – an early example of what would now be called globalisation.”

This dig also uncovered two Muslim burials from the mid-12th century, showing that the central area of the site was dedicated to ritual activities, probably with a cemetery and a mosque, showing that the local population converted to Islam during or before the 12th century.

Dr Pradines is optimistic that the site has many more stories to tell.  He says; “I would love to find some architectural remains of houses or religious buildings.  That will definitely be the next big discovery.” 


Recovering Vision

Dr Khabir Ahmad, Associate Professor of ophthalmology at the Aga Khan University, advocates for healthcare ‘rights’ of the city’s indigenous fisheries communities, based on the Karachi Marine Fishing Communities Eye and General Health Survey.

He has  managed to collate robust evidence on how groups within these communities – the elderly and women – are at a disadvantage even when they are provided access to care.

The survey found that 94% of the elderly lived in extreme poverty, 84% had no school-based education and 55% had never had an eye examination. Cataract and refractive errors (optical problems that cause blurred vision) were the leading causes of vision loss even though both are curable.


Classifying Turkish Cities

ISMC's Muslim Civilisations Abstracts project has gathered the perspectives and interpretations of a series of Turkish researchers whose objectives have been to display the realities of Turkish cities.



“Economic growth not enough to combat malnutrition”

Produced by a consortium of nations, organizations, researchers and academics, the GNR provides a global profile and country profiles on nutrition for each of the United Nations’ 193 member states, and includes specific progress for each country. Pakistan suffers from all of the three common forms of malnutrition.