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Falak Shaikhani

You recently visited Warwick – what was it like to be back on campus?

Visiting Warwick brought back many memories of the years that I have spent there. It made me realise how much I miss the university life and the campus has not changed at all! It was lovely meeting everyone, including staff at the Warwick Economics department, who were super welcoming. In addition to this, I met Professor Jeremy Smith who was my econometrics teacher, and it felt great to be catching up with him after 3 years and knowing that he is now the Head of the Economics Department.

How did the course and the department prepare you for life beyond graduation?

I graduated from Warwick with a BSc Hons in Economics in 2015. The course proved to be significantly helpful when starting my own business. This is because I was able to use what I had learnt in terms of analytical, mathematical, and statistical methods and was able to apply them to the challenges that I had faced whilst establishing Aster. Thus, the course being challenging, allowed me to prepare for future upcoming tasks. In addition to this, being part of the Warwick Economics Society and the Finance Society enabled me to acquire a greater understanding of the subject and preparing me well for future interviews. Moreover, I also received an amazing support system by both the societies, and the University itself, when times were difficult such as when I was ill or had to be away for an emergency.

What were the key elements of your Warwick experience that you found most helpful in terms of making your career choices back at home in Pakistan?

I believe just even being able to experience Warwick itself was helpful in making my career choice. Seeing how the university life is different abroad in comparison to the one in Pakistan as well as seeing how the quality and level of education differs, further ignited my passion of making a difference in the education system in Pakistan. Additionally, Warwick exposed me to the diverse culture that existed in the UK, allowing me to learn new things. Equipped with this new knowledge and the confidence I had developed, I was felt that I was able to do everything and anything.

What have you done in the last 4 years since graduation – what happened in those years that led you to the setting up of a primary school?

After I graduated I became a consultant at Deloitte Digital in London where I was able to use and apply the skills that I had developed during my university years to my role. When my passion for education then arose, I received early years education training from Finland and Harvard which allowed me then to move back to Pakistan and start my own school.

Who inspired you take up this career path and how did you go about preparing this challenge?

When visiting Pakistan and witnessing the education system here, I soon felt the need to make a change. I firmly believe that each and every individual should have the opportunity to be educated, as it is a necessity. Whilst education provides us with skills and knowledge, it also has the power to change one’s life. It is a vital tool that we need in order to further succeed in life.

Education is not simply just learning Maths, Science and English, it is a continuous learning – a learning of the set of values in life, learning from experiences and hardships, learning from successes and failures as well as learning from different individuals. This all contributes to who we are, who we become, what profession we choose, and what life we lead. Education allows us to develop opinions as well as various outlooks that we have on life. This passion to make a difference in the education system combined with my time abroad led me to develop an interest in the way the education systems are set up in European countries, allowing me to compare them to the one in Pakistan. Thus, I was particularly inspired by the Finnish, Reggio Emilia approach, and went on to receive training in early childhood education from Finland, UK and Dubai.

What are the distinctive features of The Aster School?

Aster is distinctive due to the fact that we have been inspired by the Finnish, Reggio Emilia and EYFS approach to early education – something that is very uncommon in Pakistan, thereby making Aster unique. This means that the classrooms have all been influenced by Montessori teaching, and are all suited to the needs of the child as well as being child-centric with child-sized furniture and materials. Additionally, we believe on having small classes as it allows us to focus on the needs of the child, enabling us to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, all of our teachers are also trained and have a teaching qualification which, again, makes Aster school like no other.

What are the most innovative activities for children that you introduced in your school? How does it compare to other schools in your local area?

At Aster, there are various activities that the children can choose from – cooking, swimming, zumba, gymnastics, robotics, carpentry and many more. This is what makes Aster one of a kind – the fact that all of these activities are available from such a young age and all under one roof. It is extremely difficult to find a place in Karachi where many activities ranging from educational to physical and to spiritual are accessible all under one roof.

Teaching at Aster began in January 2019, and so far the feedback has been marvellous. The parents have found Aster to be a place of one of its kind and believe that their child has improved existing skills and learnt many new ones. At Aster, we emphasise the importance of the relationship between the parents, the teachers and the children. Our aim is to always improve and satisfy the needs of the parents and the child and therefore we are always open to feedback. In addition to this, the response from the children have also been amazing to the extent that some of them don’t even want to go home when the day ends! They particularly enjoy swimming and Zumba!

What are your current challenges in your role as director of the school?

Every day is a new day with a new challenge arising. Although difficult at times, I love challenges and love being able to push myself to achieve more and to do better whilst coming up with a solution. Despite having qualifications and being the youngest school owner in Pakistan, I do come across entirely new situations that I have never experienced before but I am always willing to learn, and being able to take on these challenges – having a great team that is on board with me and who I can trust helps a lot! Likewise, parents can be challenging at times, alongside managing the school and 25 staff and making sure that everything runs smoothly every single day. Nonetheless, all of this allows me to develop my skills and to be a better version of myself!

Where does your motto of 'Whatever it Takes!' come from?

Throughout my life, I have always set an aim for myself whatever that may be, and I believe that the goal can only be achieved if I give it my all. Thus, I have always been able to accomplish whatever I wanted because I was willing to give whatever it took – hence, the motto Whatever it Takes! In addition to this, it was also inspired to me by the Finnish philosophy Sisu. Sisu is a concept developed by the Finnish people described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to current Economics students?

I think if there is one piece of advice I could give, it is to read widely and to gain experience. With current affairs and the world constantly changing, it is extremely important to read to grasp an idea of the problems that are occurring around the world, and how we as economists can tackle this. Additionally, experience is equally as significant. Regardless of which industry you are in, an internship or a job that is related to the degree that you are studying really helps as it gives you an insight as to how the industry is and works. It also allows you to realise the areas that interest you.

Lastly, another piece of advice I would like to give is to explore your options. Economics students tend to think that, following a completion of a postgraduate degree, the only option they have in terms of working is in investment banking and consulting. However, that is not the case. Economics is such a broad degree and therefore there are many uses for it in many industries. Hence, I would also say that one should have no limitations and should make use of any opportunities that are available.

Falak

Name:

Falak Shaikhani

Home/EU/Overseas:

Pakistan

Course/Graduated:

L100/2015

Current Role:

Director of The Aster School