Engendering STEM Education, Part II

The percentage of girls admitted each year to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology has been falling. The Joint Entrance Exam 2012 report states that the percentage of girls admitted has decreased from 9.9 in 2011 to 9.7 in 2012. My previous post, Introducing the Girls’ STEM Education Program in India, explains a few of the causes and our endeavors to break those barriers. In continuation of the needs assessment plan for the pilot program to be launched in Southern India, the IIE team set out for another site visit in December 2013.

A very quick meeting with the dynamic State Project Director for Tamil Nadu Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in New Delhi led us to an exciting journey in Chennai district to meet the young girls. The IIE team visited two government girls’ senior secondary schools in Ashok Nagar and Choolaimedu to meet with the principals, teachers, and students and to understand their perspective on STEM education.

What a thrilling sight it was to see rows of bright young girls dressed in maroon school uniforms, hair neatly tied in braids with maroon ribbons, curious to know what we had to say. Though we had not prepared a formal agenda for our talk, Vasanta, our education technology expert and needs assessment team member, quickly stepped into the role of an educator and started a very interactive dialogue. Our discussion helped us to better understand what inspires these girls, what they aspire to become, how they hope to fulfill their dreams, what is coming between them and their dreams, and what they could do to overcome these obstacles. The confident voices, curious looks, shy smiles, and plenty of giggling were a recipe for a joyful afternoon with loads of insight for our program model.

We also met a very proactive principal and teachers who were receptive and eager to learn new things and bring in new classroom pedagogy and practice. Teachers were well versed with their subject areas and made every effort to build rigor into teaching concepts. It was interesting to see that in this age of smartphones, there was no explicit use of educational technology in the classroom or in the students’ learning environment. While schools have computers for administrative purposes or for computer classes, technology tends not to be used as tools for teaching and learning, even though most students reported having access to a computer or the internet outside of the classroom.

Our findings were similar to those of the Hyderabad schools, and our team at IIE is now combining these lessons in order to refine our approach and affirm strategies to develop a model that will provide girls better access to STEM education and to choose career paths in the STEM field.

In my next post, I will introduce the 10 participating schools from Andhra Pradesh and TamilNadu that will be our partners in the endeavor of supporting girls.