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Business News/ Education / News/  Why do fewer girls make it to IITs?

Why do fewer girls make it to IITs?

The ratio of girls to boys continues to be low in IITs due to social reluctance to invest both time and money in a girl's education, say experts

Out of the 15 lakh engineers that graduate every year, about 30% are women, suggest ing a possibility that more women may be graduating as engineers but not from IITs.Premium
Out of the 15 lakh engineers that graduate every year, about 30% are women, suggest ing a possibility that more women may be graduating as engineers but not from IITs.

Despite steering ahead at the school level, the number of women making it to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) across the country is quite low. A quick glance at the pass percentage of the last five years for both Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian School Certificate (ISC) examination shows higher figures for girls compared to boys.

However, in the case of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Advanced 2017, while 50,455 candidates qualified for the exam, the topper among girls ranks at 35. Further, data reveals that while 79.2% boys qualified the exam as against 20.8% girls, 93.2% boys figured in the top 1,000 as against 6.8% girls. Similarly, 90.7% boys ranked against 9.3% girls in the top 5,000 positions. This indicates that the presence of women at IITs is likely to increase as one goes down the ranking of institutions.

Year after year, toppers have indicated that studying for class 12 examinations alone is not sufficient to crack the JEE and additional study is required. The variation in the difficulty level of board exams across the country make the preparation more strenuous for some compared to others. Enter coaching institutions.

A 2016 Assocham survey indicates that nearly 95% of Indian students are taking some kind of private coaching. Coaching centres and private tuitions have customised programmes of varying durations especially for competitive examinations like JEE with students often enrolling in these as early as class 9.

Explains professor Rohini Godbole, member, governing body, IIT Bombay, “As a test, JEE requires a specific style of preparation which leads to most aspirants choosing to opt for coaching but it’s mostly boys who seem to be doing so." While it is difficult to cite data in this regard, it seems that the gender disparity in an IIT classroom stems from the gender disparity in a coaching centre’s classroom. Coaching can be expensive and in many instances, other factors such as the distance of the centre from a girl’s home also contribute to lack of access, she argues.

According to Godbole, it is difficult to attribute this phenomenon to a single factor though this is not about a gender’s incapability but a lack of opportunity.

An analysis of the 2015 CBSE data by Hindustan Times shows that while more boys opted for subjects like maths, physics and computer science in class 12 compared to girls, the latter have a higher average score in these subjects.

Out of the 15 lakh engineers that graduate from over 3,000 educational institutions in the country, about 30% are women. This suggests a possibility that more women may be graduating as engineers but not from IITs.

Anand Kumar who founded the Super 30, a specialised coaching programme for IIT aspirants from extremely underprivileged background explains that in some cases parents do not think that an IIT degree is a worthy investment for girls. This year, all 30 candidates coached by Anand made it to the final list but they are all boys. “Every few years, I manage to find talented girls but it is very difficult to convince the parents to get rid of their feudal mentality that a girl must have limited ambitions," says Anand. He cites the example of one of his girl students who received an offer from IIT Madras but was convinced by her parents to go to another institute because of its geographic proximity to her hometown.

So is setting up an IIT in every city the key to increase women graduates? In 2016, the government approved the creation of six new IITs while the Indian School of Mines was upgraded to an IIT taking their final tally to 23.

Kumar feels that this is a piecemeal solution as every institution offers unique opportunities and asking girls to compromise on their choice of institution is an almost denial of equal opportunity.

However, newer IITs are taking cognizance of this gap. For instance, IIT Mandi, founded in 2009, offers all first year girl students a scholarship that includes free boarding and lodging as well as a stipend of Rs1,000 per month for 10 months. From 2018, IITs will add 600 more seas for women which will be drawn from supernumerary seats with the quota varying every year.

But is this enough? Factors such as the financial cost of a degree as well as the costs of relocation also limit the pool of candidates who aspire for an IIT degree in the first place.

This is further complicated by the social reluctance to invest both time and money in a girl’s education.

A cursory look at the toppers of the advanced exam of last four years reveals that they belong to towns like Panchkula, Jaipur, Satna and Udaipur. Clearly, IITs pull crowds not just from big urban centres but pan-India. Thus, greater female participation too requires a pan-India approach that aims to eliminate structural obstacles from the path of prospective women candidates. For girls to harbour and sustain the aspiration of studying in an IIT, interventions must begin much earlier at the higher secondary level itself.

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Published: 24 Aug 2017, 07:46 PM IST
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