Inspiring Girls Of Today To Pursue The Jobs Of Tomorrow With STEM Skills

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Inspiring Girls Of Today To Pursue The Jobs Of Tomorrow With STEM Skills

Inspiring Girls Of Today To Pursue The Jobs Of Tomorrow With STEM Skills
The jobs and workspaces of today are getting increasingly technology intensive. A report suggests that in the next decade, 80% of the jobs will need STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics). And while around 12 million people are added to the country’s workforce every year, we are already facing a shortage of STEM workers.
Talking about Women’s participation in this context, the Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019 estimated that women are 56% less likely to use mobile internet and 28% less likely to own a mobile phone. The World Economic Forum (2016) estimated that if this disparity continues, then only one woman will get employed in a STEM-related job for every 20 such jobs lost globally.
There exists a clear STEM gender gap and it is not just bad news for the women of tomorrow, but also for the whole nation.
The Gender Gap in STEM
When we consider equality in education, the figures are highly comparable between girls and boys. According to the official figures, the drop-out rate of girls in the secondary stage is high but not any higher than boys (Educational Statistics at a glance, (MHRD 2018)). In the case of higher education as well, the enrolment of female students has been consistently rising and females constitute 48.6% of the total enrolment (AISHE 2019).
But these numbers hide the fact that while more girls are getting access to education, in higher studies in STEM (science, engineering, and mathematics) and in professional fields, disparity continues. Due to the poor school-to-work transition many are not able to build viable STEM career pathways and those who do find it challenging to retain their careers. Against the worldwide average of 28.8%, women constitute only 14% of the STEM workers in India. This is evident by the fact that among the 500 participants of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize which is India’s Top Award for Science and Technology, only 16 recipients were women.
Building an equitable opportunity for Women, powered by the STEM mindset
To fix this leaky STEM pipeline and to ensure more girls from Tier 2 and 3 cities as well as rural areas access STEM education, it is critical to solve the challenges that hold them back in a holistic manner. There is need to give girls access to technology, but it is equally important to build their confidence so that they – and their parents - believe they can do STEM.
Student surveys carried out show that girls are less likely to have access to computers, to install video games, or to use learning apps on their phones. Though there is a positive attitude towards science amongst girls, more boys than girls have tried to repair, tinker or build and play with materials such as pulley and electronics. Opportunities to access science related materials and resources are more for boys and girls are often discouraged from handling drill, pickaxe, hammer, electrical and electronics materials, repair and building something.
Gender biases in STEM exists in teachers as well. Teachers seem to have gendered perceptions with regard to students’ abilities in science 42% thought boys do better in physics and 49% thought girls do better in biology, 75% thought both can do well in chemistry.
Any solution that attempts to address the STEM gender gap at a systemic level, must take an ecosystem approach; addressing and removing roadblocks at each level with specific tools and models, but in a collaborative manner.
IBM’s STEM for Girls initiative
STEM for Girls is IBM’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative that brings digital literacy, 21st century skills, coding, and life skills curriculum to students in government secondary schools across India. These are specially designed to help the girl students explore the possibilities of STEM-related careers and break gender stereotypes.
Speaking about the initiative, Manoj Balachandran, CSR Head, IBM India & South Asia said, “A sizable amount of CSR money is spent on education and skilling across India. But I think for it to become a movement and to really make an impact, it needs to be part of an organization's DNA. For example, IBM has also recently made a commitment to skilling 30 million learners by 2030. We know there is a huge gap and it can only be addressed holistically. STEM for girls is one of those initiatives that our partnership with Department of Science and Technology is going into 200 schools this year and promoting the whole idea of STEM. I strongly believe in the power of partnerships,  and we are joining hands with like-minded organizations and combining the whole ecosystem of different stakeholders to push the ball forward. Our the intent is to ensure that the girls of today not miss out on the job opportunities of tomorrow.”
So far, the initiative has impacted 2,00,000 and 1,00,000 boys of 1600+ government schools across 12 states pan India. It exposes the students to technology boot camps and hands-on learning to develop strong computational thinking and understand concepts in cognitive technologies.
A good example of the type of hands-on learning approach of STEM for Girls India is an innovation project implemented for over 5,000 girls across Uttarakhand. Shortlisted students got an opportunity to design and launch their own functioning drones and PICO satellites at a LIVE event in Dehradun using appropriate software and technical theory. The success of this event led to the selection of 4 bright girls to attend a final rocket launch event to be held at Chennai in 2022.
Aditi Singh, a 9th grade student of Government Inter College, Nalapani, Dehradun was one of the girls selected. She always enjoyed STEM, and this initiative only boosted her interests. “This is a dream opportunity especially for government school students. I am excited to discover my future and build my identity in the field of space science now”, she said. This event helped girls like Aditi discover the world of possibilities open to them, while sparking an interest not commonly explored in the current government education system.
Computational thinking and problem-solving mindsets are inculcated through Hackathons where students are encouraged to identify daily life problems and produce solutions using daily-life objects and user feedback. Students have created cleaning systems, sanitary pad incinerators, phone network boosters, pest control devices, and a range of solutions to the everyday problems around them. Several of their prototypes have been further selected at the national level by the MANAK inspire awards.
Life Skills covering gender awareness and equality, leadership and agency building, social and interpersonal skills, are taught through self and gender modules and by encouraging girls to speak their minds and challenge the status quo. Teachers and STEM facilitators have observed major changes in confidence and self-awareness, especially among the female students.
A key feature of the STEM for Girls Programme is career planning and guidance where a toll-free helpline number was introduced for students to obtain information about career opportunities, scholarships, and help them through the application processes, etc.
Beyond facilitating students, the program also empowers the enablers. Teacher and headmaster training sessions are carried out, and community/parents’ awareness through regular interactions with teachers are ensured. “Parents have begun taking initiative in their child’s education and discussing their problems with teachers more freely”, says Shahista Parveen, a STEM Facilitator, from Haryana.
In the last 3 years, the impact of the initiative has been heart-warming. However, the challenges are massive, and mindsets are entrenched, to bring substantial, systemic change more organizations from all arenas must work together.
To know how to participate or donate to the initiative, do get in touch:
Jasbir Kaur, STEM for Girls Lead, IBM India, IBM Corporate Citizenship jasbkaur@in.ibm.com
Roxie Pabbi, Senior Manager, Partnerships, MyyTake Private Limited roxie.pabbi@myytake.com
This Is A Partnered Post
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