Enabling ‘Future India’: Achieving holistic growth by upskilling women in STEM fields
The gender gap in India’s technological workforce is blatantly evident and the prime contributor to this problem is the still prevalent societal discrimination against women, especially, while pursuing education or career in technical fields.
The gender gap in India’s technological workforce is blatantly evident and the prime contributor to this problem is the still prevalent societal discrimination against women, especially, while pursuing education or career in technical fields. Moreover, the lack of proper technological infrastructure and quality educators in our educational institutions further adds to their woes. The pedagogy followed in our academic institutions -- especially those in rural India -- is far from being apt to impart quality education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. The male-female, rural-urban divide and the lack of quality education/educators is obviously there, but is it inevitable or are things changing?
Where India stands
The gender disparity in India’s educational ecosystem has seen a downward trend after the introduction of indigenous government initiatives such as the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana’. According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, the Gender Parity Index -- the ratio of the number of female students enrolled at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education to the corresponding number of male students in each level -- has gone up from 1.01, 0.88 and 0.86 in 2010-11 to 1.03, 1.01 and 0.92 in 2014-15 respectively. The NSS 71st round report also suggests a similar upward trend with the female literacy rate (age 15 & above) ascending from 54.9% in 2007-08 to 60.8% in 2014.
Though these figures paint a picture of India’s educational landscape, but not a clear one. The same reports also suggest that in 2014 the literacy rate of females in urban India was 77.9% whereas that in rural India was 53.1%. This disparity becomes further evident when compared in terms of learning outcomes, especially in subjects such as Maths and Science where students from urban areas clearly surpass the intellect of their counterparts from rural areas.
Delivering solutions with industry expertise
Solving core technical education-related problems requires the collaborative efforts of government bodies, academic establishments as well as corporate entities. Many industry leaders & multinational conglomerates operational in the field of science and technology help the government address societal issues in the areas of education, healthcare, disaster management, etc. with innovative tech-based, human-inspired solutions. IBM is one such industry pioneer which has been actively contributing towards the upliftment of the society in India through their CSR initiatives since 2004, long before the CSR legislation was passed in India in 2013.
At the India Skills Forum, held on 11 March 2019 in New Delhi, IBM announced a three-year programme with a bouquet of CSR initiatives targeted at promoting STEM education for female students and prepare them for “new collar” jobs. In its initial phase, the programme will affect the careers of over 2,00,000 women studying in government institutions across three states -- Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Eventually, the company plans on propagating the initiative to several other states benefitting 1 million+ female students and facilitating over 4 million teachers with educational resources in the due course of three years. They also introduced a two-year Advanced Diploma Programme in emerging technologies to be availed across 100 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), including 50 all-women ITIs. To ensure its pertinence to the Indian educational ecosystem, the course has been developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, GoI.
To help math teachers in Kendriya Vidyalayas across India, IBM announced that they will continue to support them with their AI-powered instructional resources website, Teacher Advisor With Watson. A similar unique online repository of STEM-related lessons, Teachers TryScience, which has been developed using contributions from 55,000 trainers and covers 12 states and 9 Indian languages, will also be made available to four million teachers across the country.
Apart from their endeavours of the future, IBM in collaboration with the Government of India is currently nurturing and shaping young innovators with their Atal Tinkering Labs initiative. The initiative will help about 4,000 mentors and 6,00,000 mentees with an AI-powered Mentor Platform developed with the IBM Watson cognitive platform by analyzing their interactions and providing personalized support.
This recent commitment by IBM is primarily focused on mitigating the gender parity and skills gap in STEM careers. Such initiatives by the frontrunners of the tech industry will augment the inclusion of women in the tech workforce and help us progress towards a sustainable future.
The road ahead
India, as of now, is progressing on a path which leads to growth but not necessarily sustainable growth. A sustainable future demands for technology-led inclusive growth. And inclusive here would mean inclusivity in terms of gender, geography and genre. Considering the level of intrusion as well as the importance of technology in our lives, upskilling women and leveraging their potential in STEM fields is utterly important to build future-ready as well as human-friendly solutions.