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Skilling can bridge gender gaps in science: women, science and Chandrayaan 3

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

The success of Chandrayaan 3 has done many things for India, but one of them— captured by the viral image of ISRO’s women scientists — has, in a single sweep, made this powerful comment on women’s education.


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeting the women scientists who worked on Chandrayaan 3


Girls are good at science.


The stereotype that women are more suited to arts and ‘feminine’ areas of work such as such as beauty, fashion etc finds resonance everywhere from literature, cinema, etc.


While privileged, urban india may — quite rightfully — mock the existence of such ideas, in rural, remote and underprivileged parts of India, many such stereotypes dominate conversation and convention.


This however, is not simply a matter of perception. Across India, education data reveals how the cultural beliefs mirror education and professional spaces.


The poor state of women’s secondary education and schools are all a result of that: the high drop-out rates of girls in secondary schools, has been attributed to the additional care and domestic work which falls on their shoulders. The New Education Policy 2020 has signalled gaps in education for girls including infrastructural barriers that disadvantage girls in secondary schools. Data from NCPCR reports that 39.4 per cent of girls between 15-18 years (as of 2018) as out of school. Latest data from UDISE reports the presence of 11.96 lakhs government elementary schools in the country, versus the woeful numbers of secondary and senior secondary schools, at 1.50 lakhs, and 1.46 lakhs respectively. This means that to travel to school, students have to cover great distances. Infrastructural barriers (such as paucity of girls’ toilets, female teachers), poor finances of families and the general fears about girls’ safety, means that girls are disproportionately excluded from secondary education. The COVID-19 pandemic only heightened these issues, with girls dropping out of school only to be engaged in domestic work or get married.


The very slim minority of girls that does get to complete school, has an even slimmer chance of being able to choose Science as a stream, as the most commonly available stream, is Arts/Humanities.


Can skilling bridge the gap?


While a large portion of rural India has pinned the professional and intellectual ambitions of girls down to stereotypes, simply talking to girls reveals an intense desire to break tradition and go beyond ‘feminine’ and ‘domestic’ professions. In Kothputli, Rajasthan, Monika, a potter’s daughter reports not being able to take Science after tenth standard because the school in her village only offered Humanities — and the secondary school which did, was far from her home. “It was a private school and my father simply could not afford the fees, nor the transportation costs,” she says. But somewhere down the way, Monica’s fortunes changed. The gap left by the education sector, was filled by a skilling sector, in the form of a nine-month IT skills course, through which she could revive her interest in Science.


In India, while both the Centre and state governments in India offer various schemes and policies promoting skill development for youth, specific approaches can push girls — specifically rural girls — towards fulfilling their Science dreams. Deepa, from rural Ajmer, whose life was confined to caregiving for her ill mother, was also able to change her fortunes by doing a Cloud Computing course through Manzil, a project supported by Rajasthan State Livelihoods Development Corporation (RSLDC), and now works in Jaipur. Monica now works remotely for an IT organisation headquartered in Pune, earning Rs 21,000 per month, the highest salary in her village.


Vineeta from Bhilwara, a tech geek who was fortunate enough to complete a BCA, followed it up with the skills-course in Cloud Computing to secure an IT job in Jaipur. However, for most others, the skills course, subsequent employment and income, is often is used a stepping stone for other things. For girls interested in IT and Computers — it has familiarised them with the language of computers. Deepa recalls never having touched a computer prior to her training, now expertly punches away on her keyboard. The income and experience also gives them the confidence to save and aspire for higher education. For many girls in rural India, a skills course in the Sciences could pave the way, to one day conquering major achievements. Such as another Chandrayaan.



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