Today, there is a lot of talk about the scarcity of women in fields of science and engineering. They are under-represented in leadership roles. Although the number has risen to some extent in recent years, but is still relatively low. The percentage of women in India’s premier science research agencies is not more than 20 percent! A report by the World Economic Forum suggests that only 14.3 percent of science researchers in India are women. A similar trend is seen in the enrolment numbers for engineering courses in India with girls making up only 28% of the total aspirants. This number dips even further for institutions of National Importance.
A reason for this under-representation can be the pre-conceived notion that women are not suited for subjects like science and mathematics. This is undoubtedly a horrible notion, but is only one of the many other rationales that keep girls from pursuing STEM in school. Some other reasons being:
Lack of motivation
An underlying thought in most parents’ mind, as their daughter comes of age, is to get her married as soon as possible. The same parents who pressurize their son to take up science in school and prepare for IITs, ask their daughters to learn cooking. Right from the childhood, kids are fed templates – how boys are supposed to behave, what girls aren’t supposed to do – leaving negligible room for personal freedom.
Our education system doesn’t put much emphasis on the ‘choice’ part
I am not talking about the elite schools, as they are still lesser in number. A majority of schools in small towns don’t give their students much choice when it comes to subjects. Many students are forced to take up subjects they don’t necessarily have the aptitude for. Rather than believing in individuality, our schools instill a herd mentality in children, that promotes rote learning. That girls are better suited for home science and it is the boys who should take up physics and chemistry and maths, is the kind of thought process that discourages thousands of brilliant minds from shining.
The portrayal of scientists and engineers in the mainstream media
Let’s face it, we have a specific idea of how a scientist is supposed to look. Same goes for engineers and mathematicians. Mainstream media (mostly films and television) has often portrayed these professionals as ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ who look and act a certain way and don’t have a life outside of work. This too, deters parents from supporting their daughters to take up STEM at school.
Not enough women are learning to compute, code, or training in other IT fields. This is a problem because most of the high paying jobs belong to these fields. As the number of women employed in these fields is less than men, so is their average salary. The distribution of the two genders is highly uneven.
The problem is that not enough women are taking up STEM. We, as a society ought to promote STEM education among girls. If you need more reasons, read on:
Most of the highest-paying jobs are in STEM fields
Engineers are arguably the most handsomely paid professionals in the world. We are in the middle of a technological revolution. Tech has influenced and shaped our world more than anything. It has become an integral, or dare I say, a vital part of our lives. Fields like Robotics, Artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things have experienced an unprecedented growth and as per the experts, are the future. Three of the biggest organizations (as per market value) according to Forbes (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft) are technology driven. There is also a rising need for scientists in the private sector. Encouraging girls to make a career in fields like UX design, software, R&D, data analysis etc. can be highly beneficial for them in the long run.
Studying STEM can aid in cognitive development
It is a well-known fact that studying science and maths aids in the development of cognitive structures. There is no concept of rote learning in Maths. There are problems and formulas that can solve the said problems. How and where the person solving the problem uses the formula is completely up to her. If practiced regularly, mathematics can help a person develop a more logical mindset. The very fact that you are able to read this article is because people studied mathematics, developed technology, and implemented it in daily life. The entirety of the IT industry is based on logic and calculation.
The technology of the future mustn’t be devoid of female acumen
Studying STEM is highly beneficial for creativity, innovation, and imagination. The world is on a path of technological revolution and will keep on innovating. However, if there aren’t any females taking up STEM, the technology of the future will have minimal female input. Imagine, a male point of view behind everything!
If we don’t break the norms, who will?
It is important to let your children do whatever they feel like doing. Encourage your daughter to take STEM. If she doesn’t like it, don’t pressurize her. Let it be her choice. If, however, she wants to take up STEM, then make sure she gets proper support. The United States has made it a priority to promote STEM and aims to increase the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in the subjects by a million in order to keep up with the projected growth in the related industries.
Even in India, there are organizations that are working toward the same cause. Shiv Nadar Foundation is one such organization that has been consistently doing its part. It gives its students an opportunity for hands-on learning with the help of qualified and experienced teachers who act as mentors and guide students toward their passion. Their Robotics club and design thinking club, along with integrated science labs help children gain practical knowledge.
Our country has given the world geniuses like Shakuntala Devi and Kalpana Chawla. Let us help increase this list. Our girls have more potential than we can imagine and we need to create a future where they are not expected to follow stereotypes. Where they have the freedom to study whatever they want to.