“It’s the collective responsibility of government, NGOs, institutions and society to promote girl’s STEM education,” says Sonal Kapoor, Founder Director, Protsahan
Kindly tell us about evolution of STEM enrolment as a significant tool for women empowerment in India.
India as a country has always laid high emphasis on education. Among the pioneers of women in STEM was Dr. Anandibai Joshi, the first woman physician of India educated in the US in 1886. During the British rule and even the first few formative years of the independent Republic of India, women like Dr. Joshi were role models for many women to pursue STEM education.
However, this trend has been on a decline in the past few decades with a steady decline in the government’s interest and subsequent investment in STEM education, especially for girl children. There are not enough reasons and incentives for anyone to pursue STEM education anymore. But the fact that it helps develop and sharpen critical thinking is a significant enough reason for society to adopt and promote STEM education for everyone, especially girls.
How ‘Protsahan’ is helping women to overcome these issues? How has the society responded to the cause?
Protsahan uses extremely creative means on imparting education with a backbone of psycho-social-emotional healing. In recent studies, there has been a lot of emphasis not just on STEM education, but on STE(A)M where A stands for ‘Arts’. Protsahan implements creative arts and digital interventions to reach out to the remote locations and the last girl child at the bottom of the pyramid. These girls face barriers to education due to lacking life skills, personal safety, menstrual health management and creative classroom learning. We have successfully impacted more than 20,000 at-risk girls through these creative art and digital interventions.
Please discuss challenges and opportunities involved in women STEM enrollment in India, especially in rural areas.
STEM education will happen effectively for children in rural areas only when there is electricity to begin with that would power the computers. Effective internet penetration is another challenge.
Rural India has a multitude of issues like clean drinking water, sanitation, crop failure etc. where girls are not involved at all in local devising solutions for these localized issues. With more girls getting trained in critical reasoning and STEM, local population will have a much better chance at finding solutions to local issues with improved participation from residents.
What is the role of other social bodies, civic authorities and communities to encourage women STEM enrollment across rural and semi-urban constituencies?
Female representation across STEM careers has so far been low compared to their male counterpart. Collectively, we need to work towards making women in our country more prepared for attaining STEM goals apart from inspiring them to develop interest and confidence through hands-on activities and parent engagement. This can be done by celebrating successful female role models to boost their confidence level; clearing hurdles for women for smooth navigation in STEM fields. Institutions and governments can encourage this at broader scale by offering scholarships, grants, and sector-enabling discussion of ideas on large platforms. Corporate sector needs to do their bit too.
Women in India currently hold less than 11% jobs in STEM careers, and even in the US also their representation is below 24%. Even though studies show that girls enjoy STEM activities more than boys they are not able to consider it as career options as 40% girls say they do not get enough practical exposure.
Sonal Kapoor is the Founder Director at Protsahan India Foundation. She has done her graduation in Microbiology from Delhi University and post graduation from SIIB and Indian School of Business. Sonal is a member, expert committee on anti-child trafficking (Delhi Commission of Women) and member of CSO Coalition to End Child Marriage in India. She is a Vital Voices fellow, World Bank Fellow & Blogger, Australia India Youth Dialog Fellow, Goldman Sachs ISB Woman Social Entrepreneur, FICCI and CII Awardee. She is a speaker of repute at Harvard School of Graduate Education, Boston and Chicago University and several IIMs and IITs. She often engages with students from colleges across the world on the issue of social entrepreneurship. She has received several national and international acclaims for her work with vulnerable children across the country.