“Catch them young” is the slogan of an upcoming programme by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), under which the brightest girl students studying in classes IX, X and XI will get a chance to rub shoulders with top woman scientists of India.
This first-of-its-kind intervention programme, named ‘Vigyan Jyoti’, is solely aimed at helping teenage girl students choose a career in science and technology at a young age. “The programme is planned in such a manner that students will be introduced to various streams of science, get a chance to visit scientific institutions in varied fields and also learn about the current works undertaken across these laboratories,” said city-based senior nanotechnology scientist Sulabha Kulkarni, who was part of a panel of 25 women that finalised the details of the programme with the DST in September 2017.
The DST held a meeting in September last year with representatives from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Statistical Institute, Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology, Anna University, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER),Pune, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women (IGDTUW) and IITs across New Delhi, Bombay, Bhubaneshwar, Indore, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Palakad, Jodhpur, Gandhinagar, Mandi, to finalise the details of the programme.
At the same meeting, it was decided that IITs and IISERs, at least in the pilot phase, would be the nodal centres and function as ‘Vigyan Jyoti Knowledge Centres’ where this summer programme would be hosted every year. Accordingly, proposals from some of these nodal centres — IISER, Pune, IIT-Bombay, Anna University, Chennai, IGNOU, IGDTUW, Miranda House and DU — were submitted to the ministry. They are currently under scrutiny and will be approved, said sources at the DST. It is estimated that every nodal centre would require between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh to conduct one summer session.
Notably, last year’s meeting was also a platform where top DST officials underlined that very few women were able to make a mark for themselves in scientific research, two possible reasons being socio-cultural approaches giving lesser importance to a girl child’s education and alleged bias against a girl’s mathematical capabilities.
“Thus the need for designing a holistic programme where talented middle-to-secondary school students could be identified and routed into professional careers in science and technology. It is noteworthy to observe smaller woman representation in select areas of science and engineering. A conducive ecosystem needs to be created that will remain both gender-neutral and encourage more women to come forth and take part in this field,” said a senior DST official.
Sources at the ministry said efforts are being made to roll out the programme this year, at least at two nodal centres, one of them IISER, Pune, where the programme can be scheduled either in April or May 2018. Nodal officer G Ambika of IISER, Pune, confirmed this development, saying, “Yes, we have been chosen as the nodal centre along with IIT-Bombay to work with schools in Maharashtra. We had submitted our proposal in October 2017, but are yet to hear from DST.” When asked if the institute was prepared to host the programme in summer 2018, Ambika said with confidence that her institute is equipped with a strong outreach team that can contact schools.
“Since the institute regularly hosts summer programmes, we will be able to organise Vigyan Jyoti summer programme anytime the DST grants approval. Also, our outreach programme team will come handy in contacting schools for participation,” she said. In the pilot project, the Centre has assigned each nodal centre to house at least 30 students for a period of three weeks to one month and run it as as a residential programme. The students will be entitled to receive a scholarship of Rs 5,000 for one session. “Along with sowing seeds of interest in science, the programme also aims at imparting communication and language skills to these students in the process,” added Kulkarni.