Promoting STEM Education
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education is the future of India’s rapidly growing technology, engineering, and manufacturing sectors. With the increasing demand for STEM professionals, it is essential to introduce STEM education at an early age
Scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important in the 21st century, as we face the benefits and challenges of globalization and a thriving knowledge-based economy. To keep up with this new information-based and technology-dependent world, India is scaling up the innovation ladder with initiatives like Make in India – Startup India, Digital India, etc.
These constant efforts have propelled India to be the third-largest startup ecosystem globally and one of the world’s largest STEM job markets. The demand for STEM jobs in India has increased by 44% in the last 5 years. STEM education will be a requirement for 80% of the jobs created in the next decade. To meet the increasing demands for STEM professionals in India’s rapidly growing technology, manufacturing, and engineering sectors. it becomes imperative to offer STEM education.
STEM in Schools
The introduction of STEM learning should be done at an early age. STEM in schools will help students build a strong foundation of knowledge, equip them with problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and help them develop innovative thinking. These skills will foster confidence among students and encourage them to find solutions to the challenges faced by India. Furthermore, entrepreneurship can be promoted as students may leverage the skills acquired through STEM education to develop impactful and innovative startups in India.
Several government-taken initiatives are focused on promoting STEM in schools. The National Education Policy (NEP) is one of them. It extends shifting science education from rote learning to experiment-based learning and seeks to reduce the school curriculum to its core essentials to make space for critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
Atal Tinkering Lab (ATL) is Another flagship STEM initiative by the Government of India. The ATLs are working towards providing a flexible environment for school students to learn fresh skills and ideas through various activities. The ATLs are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, such as robotics kits, advanced electronics, and 3D printers to provide hands-on learning experiences and enable young students to create innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Corporates stepping up in STEM
CSR activities are geared towards spreading STEM education in schools are supplementing government initiatives. Several of these projects are working to support the development of STEM infrastructure in India. The target is to fund STEM education programs in different schools by providing resources for building STEM labs and running internships, hackathons, coding events, competitions, mentorship programs, etc. to instill practical experience and exposure in STEM fields.
Corporates are also focusing on and addressing the need for inclusivity and diversity in STEM education. Various initiatives have been applied to grow access to STEM among girls and students from underprivileged communities.
The synergy between the govt. and the private sector can set up a sustainable and inclusive ecosystem for STEM education and entrepreneurship in India, ultimately growing the economy and societal progress in India.
Are the designs of STEM Programs in Schools easy?
Schools have a regular structure with a well-defined curriculum, established educational programs, and regular attendance by a large number of students. However, designing effective STEM education programs in schools is not always easy, even with a regular structure. STEM programs should be designed in such a way that it adds to the existing curriculum instead of trying to replace it. It needs to have a creative approach that goes beyond traditional teaching methodology.
To ensure the same, resources should be invested in procuring STEM education models and relevant software, setting up labs, capacity setting up of the teachers who will deliver the program, and creating opportunities for students to grow. These key factors will determine the effectiveness of the STEM program.
Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to assess a CSR initiative in STEM education which was effectively designed for schools.
Learning from the field
For the assessment, I visited a few schools in Mumbai and nearby suburbs which were selected for the program intervention. The schools were located in slums/underdeveloped areas. The majority of the students in these schools were from low-income families and were first-generation learners. The study program was a fabulous chance for them to access quality STEM education at no additional expenditure and develop skills relevant to their future growth and development.
Several CSR initiatives are not sustainable in the long run. This is because they just focus on the upgradation of STEM infrastructure and not on developing the overall capacities of the management/teachers to carry forward the project results even after the corporate exits from it. However, this program took a holistic approach to ensure sustainability.
The intervention was not just limited to infrastructural upgradation and building STEM labs. Recruitment and training of STEM mentors were done so that they could independently spearhead STEM initiatives and induct new teachers joining the schools. Intense training and capacity building of teachers was done on activity-based teaching so that teachers could use innovative and engaging methods of teaching. Several STEM opportunities (workshops, science fairs, robotics competitions at IIT Bombay, etc.) were arranged for the students so that they could benefit from this exposure, learn from peers and develop confidence and leadership qualities.
The success of the program lay in the fact that it was able to bring a positive change in behavior among the students and parents towards STEM education. STEM, otherwise perceived as a “difficult” subject, has become easy for these students. The students mentioned that even though they had low interest in science and maths, after the program intervention they looked forward to these classes every day. Hence this improved the learning outcomes of the students significantly. The benefits of STEM were not limited to the improvement of grades and attendance, the students were also showing self-motivation in studying at home, researching STEM concepts, developing STEM working models (WIFI-controlled robocars, drones, model waste treatment plant, etc), and participating in STEM-related opportunities.
Encouraged by the possibilities of STEM education, the majority of the students wanted to pursue careers in STEM (mechanical engineering, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, environmental engineering, data science, etc.). Parents were very happy with the change this education was bringing in their children. Perceiving the vast opportunities for their children to grow, create a name for themselves, and have an improved quality of life, the parents were also very supportive of the higher STEM education of their children.
Nilanjana Lahiri has done her MTech in Technology and Development from IIT Bombay, during which she was selected to present her research at the University of Oxford. She is the CEO’s Fellow at CSRBOX, a social impact collaborative in India with Impact Advisory Practice, Platform, and Programs as three key verticals.