The Roots of STEM Talent of India

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The Information Technology sector in India has built its reputation by providing cost-effective solutions and providing employment to millions of people in the process. However, the full-time research workforce in India was estimated to be just 2,00,000 in 2015 by UNESCO. Are we, as a nation, adequately promoting careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and are we even able to generate enough talent for our own demand? Are we losing some of our best minds to other countries because of a lack of support and opportunities?

What is STEM?

STEM, in full science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, field, and curriculum centered on education in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The STEM acronym was introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The organization previously used the acronym SMET when referring to the career fields in those disciplines or a curriculum that integrated knowledge and skills from those fields. In 2001, however, American biologist Judith Ramaley, then assistant director of education and human resources at NSF, rearranged the words to form the STEM acronym.

Women in STEM

Under-representation of women and gender pay gaps are well-recognized global challenges in STEM sectors. While Indian Technology firms can still boast of a relatively better female-to-male ratio, according to UNESCO estimates, only 14 percent of the researchers in India are women. Even engineering colleges have skewed gender ratio in favor of male students, and according to a Kelly Global Workforce Insights (KGWI) survey, 81 percent of the women in STEM fields in India have perceived a gender bias during performance evaluation.  The annual ‘Girls in Tech’ MasterCard research indicates that while interest in STEM careers is increasing gradually, women are still less likely than men to pursue a STEM career and less likely to remain in the field for their entire career owing to male dominance in the fields. 

STEM Sector in India

The focus on building the scientific prowess of the masses, and bet on specialized educational institutions to do the same, institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) was founded and promoted to develop the country’s scientific and technical manpower, and in the process help the society and economy prosper. However, with time, these institutes have largely been reduced to stepping stones for a well-paying career. Especially in the last two decades, the relentless quest of students, and their parents, to ensure admission to such premier institutes has given rise to an astronomical coaching classes industry as well. A particular blow to STEM education came when the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) liberally allowed the setting up of engineering institutes across the country a few years ago. The move was undertaken in anticipation of a huge demand for engineering studies. However, this not only eroded the value conferred on an engineering degree but also compromised the quality of education and training provided on a fundamental level.

Making STEM a Priority

The first step towards fixing what’s broken is the identification and acknowledgment of the present challenges and understanding the context in which they arise. In other words, the government and the private education sector must make a genuine attempt at understanding their shortcomings, and reflect on why so few Indian institutes are recognized for quality STEM education and training. Establishing global partnerships with countries that have built sophisticated STEM expertise is critical to paving the way for knowledge exchange and skill development. While American and European universities are known for their focus on STEM education, countries in the networks of BRICS and ASEAN could also prove to be beneficial partners. This also needs to be backed by healthy funding to develop independent institutes that focus on research, pure sciences, and other derivatives of STEM subjects. The Indeed survey showed that job seekers in the age group of 21-25 were 12 percent more inclined towards jobs in STEM sectors than in others. Inculcating innovation and creativity in young minds and encouraging them to pursue dedicated courses right from the moment they stepped into the formal education system is essential. However, in the present system, STEM studies might simply be added as an additional layer to the existing curriculum and would increase pressure on students and teachers alike.