Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are those areas in education and work where we see a poor representation of women. This is a phenomenon not only seen in India but globally as well. This has actually given rise to many movements. STEM Education for Girls, Girls for Coding are a few of them. At Smile Foundation our NGO partners have been working extensively to reduce the gap in this sector. They also work to bridge the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged children. And in fact, make education more inclusive with a strong focus on STEM to be promoted amongst girls in schools.
Findings on STEM Education for Girls
According to a UNESCO report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. Differences are also observed only within STEM disciplines. Despite the fact that every institution, organization, and government has been talking about the benefits & employability aspects of STEM.
As a discipline of education, it indeed fosters some very innovative areas for learning. Hence, they are now being encouraged amongst girl children, like coding, AI, robotics, big data, space research, etc. Smile Foundation’s Child for Child team has been working with children from both the privileged & the underprivileged strata of society. So we realize that gaps exist everywhere and hence we are working towards making STEM education more inclusive.
STEM for Her
Recently, International Women’s Day was chosen by Smile Foundation to throw light on the theme “STEM for Her”. Eminent panelists were invited for the virtual Panel Discussion. These panelists are at positions of responsibility who would also be able to take this message ahead amongst schools, teachers, and especially amongst students.
We started the session with a welcome address by Mr. Sanjeev Dham, COO, Smile Foundation. He talked about how STEM education and employment is garnering the right amount of attention amongst the female community. He also spoke about how Smile Foundation is propagating STEM amongst underprivileged students in its Mission Education centers.
Promoting Coding among Underprivileged Children
The focus then shifted to Ms. Shivani Shrotri, a Xth grader from Ecole Mondiale World School, Juhu, Mumbai. She along with the CFC team is planning on setting up an Internet Access hub. The hub will be in one of the Mission Education Centers. This will promote Coding amongst underprivileged children. It will also to ensure that they are equipped with a skill set that will make them employable. Her project was endorsed by the Principal of her school, Ms. Diane Lewthwaite. This was followed by views shared on the theme by participant principals from various other schools. Mrs. Manila Carvalho, DPS Bangalore East; Ms. Anjli Sharma, St. Soldier Convent International School; Ms. Sandhya Dewan, Cambridge International School, Nakodar; and Mr. Yashpal Sharma, DPS, Durg, Bhilai.
Problems in STEM Education for Girls
Each Principal focused on how in privileged schools girl students are equally enthusiastic about specializing in STEM subjects. The problem often happens when they move to higher education. Girls invariably switch to liberal arts and end up building a career in non-STEM fields. There is a lack of support system and structured institutional investments to encourage women to build careers in the field of STEM. A steady stream of capacity-building programs for trainers and teachers is required. This will help in promoting these fields amongst girls at an early age.
Insights from the Corporate Sector
To get insights from the corporate sector Mr. Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Managing Director, Perfetti Van Melle was invited. He shared his views on how women are integrated into the corporate workforce. He also hared his insights on how departments in organizations where women tend to not participate or have a lesser presence. In functions like R&D, Food Technologists, Packing Technologists, Data Analytics women bring in their logical & analytical bent of mind. They also thrive in their careers.
Session by Women Leaders from Tech & Medical Fields
The highlight of the session specifically was the talk given by women leaders from Tech and Medical fields. Dr. Mona is a dental surgeon and spoke about the challenges that she had faced while studying and pursuing a career in the field of medicine. She has, despite all adversities and had the opportunity to excel in the same and is looking forward to opening her dental clinic in the near future. We thereon moved to our next speaker, Ms. Ritika Basu, Global Technology Leader, India and Career at Mercer. She talked about her journey as an engineering graduate to now a leader in the field of STEM. Ms. Basu is currently also the Mercer representative of MMC Women in Technology board. She complimented the women leaders in her life who inspired to continue her journey to “infinity”. A true role model was what she emerged as.
Lastly, the Panel Discussion was indeed the perfect weave of the academic and the professional. It was a reflection of how STEM for Her is important and also how institutions be it Govt, Schools, Corporate & even NGOs are resonating with this message. Child for Child team thanks all the panelists and the audience for joining hands with Smile Foundation to spread a wonderful message on Women’s Day, “STEM for Her”.
To know more about Smile Foundation’s work on girl child education support https://www.smilefoundationindia.org/she-can-fly/