STEM: Why promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education among women is important

By Binaifer Jehani & Monika Pattnaik
Promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education among women the need of the hour
The inherent gender bias of the society appears to be reflected in education as well — especially science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Girls have been particularly under-represented in STEM education and, consequently, in STEM careers.While more girls are in school today than ever before, they do not always have the same opportunities as boys. Often, social norms and expectations dictate the quality of the education they receive and the subjects they study.
Through the history of mankind, economic progress of nations and people has come on the back of scientific and technological knowhow. The importance of STEM education in catalysing development cannot, therefore, be overstated — it can improve the productivity of low-skill workers and enable high-skill workers to innovate products and services. The smaller the STEM workforce, the higher the risk to a country’s ability to compete in the global economy.
Therefore, by keeping half of our population from STEM courses, whether consciously or unconsciously, we have in effect held back India’s development for long now. The disparity, though, has not been bridged in top-ranking countries as well.
This is where the government’s statement in the interim budget offers a ray of hope. Not only has female enrolment in India increased by 28% in the past 10 years, but also girls and women comprise 43% of the students in STEM courses (one of the highest in the world). This achievement showcases that we have been able to make the case for inclusivity, empowerment and building capacity across gender in the high-skill space as well.
As per the World Bank, too, the employment-to-population ratio for women has increased from 19.1% in 2018 to 27% in 2022.
The higher enrolment shows there is hope for greater inclusivity and empowerment of females in India in years to come. The increase in number will help break the shackles of gender stereotyping about ability and appropriate careers, and create better and secure workplaces. This will compel the society to break the patriarchal mindset and workplaces to provide better working conditions and equal opportunities.
For now, however, disparity persists. Battles are also being fought on the fronts of wage parity, equal opportunities and work-life balance, among others.
Amid all this, efforts to keep the enrolment numbers high for a long period would be key to improving the employment-to-population ratio among the female population. Improving enrolment among females further, especially in STEM courses, will enable us to win the war for self-sustainability, financial freedom and equal decision-making power for the nation to prosper in real terms.
(Binaifer Jehani is Director, Social Sector Consulting- CRISIL Market Intelligence and Analytics & Monika Pattnaik is Associate Director, Social Sector Consulting- CRISIL Market Intelligence and Analytics)


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