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Why it is important to support girls in STEM?

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stem, girl, support

For girls to live up to their potential in STEM, we must address the disparity beginning in the classroom itself.

In a country where women were instrumental to the success of the Mars Mission, it is tragic that they comprise only around 15 percent of the total research and development workforce. While 40 percent of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates in India are women, only a fraction pursues a job, much less a career, in the field. This phenomenon has come to be known as the 'leaky pipeline' of talent lost along the way.

The dropout begins as early as high school. In a Mastercard survey of girl students aged 12 to 14, 93 percent said they considered STEM as a career choice early on. However, 38% of school girls expressed that they were less likely to take up a STEM career because the field is male-dominated. This is despite their performance in school is as good as, or even better, than boys'.

For girls to live up to their potential in STEM, I believe we must address the disparity beginning in the classroom itself.

Start young:

Fun and engaging curricula should be designed to stimulate girls' interest in STEM subjects. An inclusive approach that facilitates equal opportunities for all regardless of gender will encourage girl students to participate in competitions and clubs in tech arenas, such as, robotics, coding, and chess. By nurturing their skills and talent in science and math, we can empower girls to play to their strengths and choose the skills they would like to develop from an early age.

Involve teachers:


Teachers are critical to building self-confidence and inculcating a sense of belonging among young students. Educators must take the reins to encourage girls to dream big by raising awareness and interest in STEM through vocational training, science workshops, and leveraging new age avenues such as gamification. Schools can take the onus of sensitising their staff towards gender equality by investing in unconscious bias training among teachers and other employees.



Leverage digital pedagogies:


In a world disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, technology can be used in creative and accessible ways to attract girls to the STEM pipeline. Digital tools and platforms can democratise the educational experience while offering a high degree of personalisation unique to every student. Online courses, video tutorials, virtual laboratories, digital repositories, and so on, can assist learning across genders and geographies.

Identify role models:


You can't be what you don't see. Most girls don't even consider an education in STEM because they don't have any role models or personalities to emulate, professionally, socially, or otherwise. Classroom discussions should be structured such that both boys and girls are inspired by Kalpana Chawla and Shakuntala Devi as much as they are by C. V. Raman and Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Students can also gain exposure to women in STEM through experiential activities such as film screenings, guest talks, and museum visits. STEM achievers from the school alumni can be great influencers, mentors, and role models showing the path towards achievable dreams.

Encourage career discovery:


The future generation of women should be taught about the breadth of careers in STEM from an early age. Girls can gain first-hand experience in STEM employment through internships, career counselling, and job fairs. The right exposure and advice can help girls build the agency and freedom to choose their own paths as they approach adulthood.

In addition to above-mentioned measures, private organisations and government also play a huge role in accelerating progress towards parity.

Corporates must focus on creating truly inclusive workplaces by promoting equal pay, implementing impartial recruitment strategy, providing a better work-life balance for both genders, offering training and mentors to everyone, and ensuring strict and effective policies against harassment and workplace offense.

Programmes such as the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls - Digital Laado have been introduced by the government to build awareness about the importance of educating the girl child and empowering them to join the workforce.

Such initiatives not only help in promoting education of the girl child but also lead to deeper social benefits like prevention of child marriage and inculcating financial independence.

While these efforts will support STEM education with programmes to train, mentor, and hire female graduates, the most effective way to narrow the gender gap is to prevent it in the first place. By taking an early-age approach, I believe that the pipeline can be plugged before it begins to leak.




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