To participate effectively in the jobs of the future, girls should be encouraged to pursue STEM education.
As per a report published by the World Economic Forum, only 14.3% of science researchers in India are women. In comparison, several West Asian countries have far better representation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Bahrain, for example, has roughly 41.3% women doing some kind of research in science.
It is, therefore, important to ask two pertinent questions: why do more boys than girls study science and technology in India? And, does women’s underrepresentation in STEM lead to limited job opportunities for them?
The problem of women’s underrepresentation in STEM has its roots in socio-cultural as well as economic factors.
The most obvious one is the practice of discouraging girls from pursuing secondary or college education in India. A significant proportion of those who study either drop out on the pretext of marriage or are not encouraged taking up careers in science and technology, as the same are perceived to be hectic and time-consuming.
Moreover, stereotyping women as caregivers and homemakers has often restricted their fields of study to teaching, nursing, fine arts, home economics and the like. There are of course exceptions, but they are far and few.
It is worth questioning, for instance, as to why young girls are gifted ‘kitchen sets’ on their birthdays while young boys in the same family aren't.
Let us now analyze how STEM education can open new doors for girls, and give them the required tools to shine in their careers.
The most important benefit is that it will enable girls to participate in the ‘jobs of the future’. These will be jobs that involve the use of technologies such as automation, robotics, data science and Artificial Intelligence. Without adequate knowledge about the same, female employees will find it difficult to adapt to the future workplace.
Moreover, some of the highest-paying jobs in the word today are in the technology space – and if only 28% of the students enrolling in higher education in ICT are women – then the skill and pay gap will keep on widening.
STEM education is also critical in fostering 21st-century skills such as analytical and conceptual thinking and creative problem solving.
Interventions are the need of the hour
System interventions are necessary to encourage more girls to take up STEM education.
Schemes initiated by the government of India such as Vigyan Jyoti, Inspire – MANAK, Atal Tinkering Labs, and Skill India are systemic interventions that are making way for innovations in STEM education.
Moreover, they are designed to create an enabling environment within schools to encourage girls to break the shackles and pursue a career in STEM. An important component of these interventions is to positively impact the mindset of all stakeholders – be they parents, teachers or school administrators. And in the long run, such initiatives will go a long way in changing the STEM education landscape in India.
Other than the government, leading organisations are also taking up the challenge of addressing gender gap in STEM education.
IBM’s ‘Teachers Try Science’, for example, aims to improve education outcomes through greater access to STEM resources for teachers in government schools. These tools and strategies also help spark students’ interest in STEM. The program has reached more than 55,000 teachers and over 2.2 million students across 12 Indian states.
At the upcoming India Skills Forum, IBM will also spark discussions on the importance of upskilling girls in STEM.
Given the current situation, the importance of such initiatives cannot be overemphasised. Not only will these make way for quality practices in STEM education, but also help bridge the gender gap in this field.
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