Empowering girls through STEM education
On the heels of India’s celebration of National Girl Child Day on January 24 out came the latest All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report, released by the education ministry. Data from the report showed how crucial gains in achieving gender equality in undergraduate courses received a setback post-pandemic.
As per the report, while in the science stream, women outnumbered men, in engineering and technology, men outnumbered women. Data also showed that women’s enrolment dropped drastically in many historically male-dominated courses. For example, in BCom, enrolment of women fell to 94 for every 100 men in 2020-21. In the same year enrolment in medicine fell from 93 women per 100 men in 2019 to 66 women per 100 men in 2020-2021. The gender gap in courses like computer science and technology, which have always seen higher participation of men, continues to be substantial.
It is worth noting that physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology (PCMB) are prerequisites for students who wish to pursue careers in medicine, nursing, and engineering, while commerce students require proficiency in mathematics. Therefore, to address the issue of under-representation of women in these fields, it is essential to begin efforts at the school level. Providing school-going girls with appropriate resources and support can enable them to comprehend and opt for science, technology, engineering, and medical (STEM) courses as potential career paths. The current statistics raise concerns, especially since STEM fields are projected to be the future of employment. Thus, increasing women’s enrolment in all STEM-related fields is of utmost importance.
STEM subjects are recognised for their emphasis on essential skills such as critical thinking, logical reasoning, and digital fluency, which have applicability across various fields. Therefore, fostering a STEM mindset in young girls can augment their employability and prepare them for the future.
India can bridge this gap effectively by capitalising on the flourishing ed-tech platforms that provide a wide range of STEM-focused courses. It is crucial that students are equipped with personalised learning tools and plans, and fortunately, there are platforms that cater to this specific need. By providing students with the freedom to learn at their own pace in a supportive and nurturing setting, we can ensure that the lack of access to physical tutoring centres is no longer a hindrance to their education.
Leading technology companies like IBM have been working to empower young girls through flagship programmes such as STEM for girls. These programmes have helped over two lakh girls in government high schools across multiple states to explore their potential in STEM careers over a three-year period. Ed-tech platforms can complement such programmes by providing personalised tutoring to students outside of the classroom, thereby enhancing the reach of these initiatives.
India has demonstrated commendable progress in encouraging women to pursue STEM courses at the tertiary level, surpassing other developed countries in this regard. The Union minister for education, Dharmendra Pradhan, highlighted this achievement in a written response to Lok Sabha last year, citing World Bank data that indicates a higher percentage of women in STEM fields in India (43%) compared to the United States (34%), United Kingdom (38%), Germany (27%), and France (32%). However, the government acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on students and is committed to further promoting girls’ participation in science and related fields.
The initiatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vigyan Jyoti and Engage with Science (Vigyan Prasar), are truly remarkable for their comprehensive approach towards promoting STEM education among girl students and serve as an inspiration to all. Vigyan Jyoti, launched in 2019 by the department of science and technology aims to motivate girls to pursue higher education and careers in STEM fields by providing them with a wide range of opportunities such as scholarships, visits to scientific institutions, science camps, lectures by eminent women scientists, and career guidance. Engage with Science, another Vigyan Prasar initiative, seeks to foster interest and scientific spirit among the youth through an interactive platform built on top of the India science over-the-top (OTT) platform, encouraging high school students to take up careers in science and technology. The role of ed-tech in helping achieve the objectives of these schemes cannot be overstated.
The government’s commitment to promoting equity and inclusion in the fields of science, technology, and innovation is evident in the latest draft of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP), 2020. The policy aims to institutionalise and mainstream these values into all policies and processes related to these fields. One of the key features of the policy is to ensure enhanced representation of women in decision-making bodies, with a target of at least 30% representation. This aligns with the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020, which emphasises creating a gender-inclusive education system that provides a safe environment and expands infrastructure to meet the needs of girl students. In this regard, ed-tech platforms can play a vital role in empowering girls to continue their education from the safety and comfort of their homes.
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