Sattva Knowledge Institute and AISECT joint study calls for collaborative action to encourage more girls in STEM

India, April 26th, 2024: In a recent report jointly authored by the Sattva Knowledge Institute (SKI), the official knowledge platform of Sattva Consulting, and AISECT, a leading social enterprise focused on skill development, higher education, financial inclusion, e-governance, and other ICT services, sheds light on the nature of obstacles that prevent Indian girls from seeking science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers.

India is a significant source of STEM talent, with more than 30% of all STEM graduates in the world.[1] Within this talent pool, however, lies a gaping gender disparity. Only 37% of girls in India graduate from school with a science discipline, and only 3% of all women aged 22-50 have a technical education.[2] This deprives a considerable proportion of students, primarily girls, of the growing opportunity in the field.

Interviews with over 40 experts from the education sector, extensive group discussions with teachers and female students from grades 9-12, and surveys covering 700+ students across India revealed three categories of challenges to girls’ uptake of STEM.

The study found that some of these challenges – such as access to learning resources, classroom inefficiencies, and poor foundational skills – are gender-agnostic, that is, they affect all students regardless of their gender while several others – such as access to financial resources, unavailability of STEM courses in the vicinity, and lack of career guidance – affect girls disproportionately, and are hence gender-accentuated. Yet another set of challenges, including stereotypes, social norms, and lack of role models in STEM fields, are gender-specific.

Shweta Gaur, Practice Manager, Sattva Knowledge Institute, reinforced the need for equitable access to science-based education by stating, “Promoting gender and regional equity in STEM education is crucial for leveling the playing field between opportunity and disparity. With 80% of future jobs demanding STEM skills, investing in scalable Digital Public Infrastructure for universal access to science education is imperative for sustainable progress.”

Government agencies, industry and civil society organisations have been working to address these issues. However, these efforts are siloed, and inadequate for the nationwide scope of the problem.

Recognising this, the report suggests a four-pronged approach to encouraging girls’ uptake of STEM:

1. Building an open network ecosystem for scholarships and financial support: An open network approach that integrates public scholarships, private financial instruments, and philanthropic efforts into a cohesive platform will deliver value at scale. It will streamline scholarship distribution, bridging the gap between available funds and student needs, while fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders to maximise support, especially for girls.

2. Building a Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) for career guidance and mentorship: A Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) could effectively enhance accessible and relevant career guidance and mentorship, particularly for girls residing in non-urban areas. By facilitating collaboration between diverse stakeholders like employment providers, career guidance providers, education providers with knowledge and career seekers to enrich content, a DPI could aid students in identifying local career opportunities and derive benefits.

3. Constructive action with the community on shifting gender norms on STEM: Constructive action by engaging community stakeholders could encourage the active participation of girls in solving local challenges through analytical thinking and innovation. Local governance bodies should ensure recognition and support for these innovations, creating a pathway for them to scale up to a national level.

4. Leveraging assessments to enable state action in STEM skills for girls: It is critical to partner with organisations implementing large-scale life skill assessments, which can provide data to inform gender-specific curriculum guidelines. Institutions like PARAKH and Life Skills Collaborative can lead the initiative to enable the scaling of assessments at district and state levels.

Speaking about the report and the way forward initiative, Dr. Siddharth Chaturvedi, Director of AISECT said “In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, digital and STEM skills are crucial. As industries undergo digital transformation, those with these skills can adapt and contribute effectively. However, achieving gender equality in STEM education faces challenges due to societal norms and stereotypes, especially affecting girls in the country. At AISECT Group, we always prioritize equal opportunities. Partnering with SATTVA Consulting, we’ve crafted a report raising awareness about gender parity in STEM Education in India which needs urgent attention. We have also started implementing the solutions to the issue in hand which will follow as a joint effort. AISECT is already offering dedicated female batches and we will also offer dedicated scholarships and open network initiatives in the future .”

The study further reinforced how women with a technical education have a better chance of earning more than their counterparts with non-technical education. STEM graduates are also more likely to obtain salaried employment and remain in the formal workforce. This eventually results in better developmental outcomes for the women themselves, as well as their households.

The study states that ensuring access to STEM education and careers for girls is a national imperative, and demands the concerted efforts of samaaj, sarkaar and bazaar for sustained impact.

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