Why Girl Students Don't Make It To IITs?

Even when Girls outperform boys in 12th board examinations in India; what is keeping them away from IITs?

File photo of IIT Delhi

As the summer temperatures rise, one hot topic often discussed is an open secret. Across all higher secondary boards, girls secure better grades than boys. This is not just the case in India, but across the world, in countries even as far afield as the USA.

May 26th added another page to this universal truth, with girls outperforming boys yet again with a pass percentage of 88.31 as against 78.99. Even the top three performers in the 12th board exams were girls. Given this, it is but natural to expect the most prestigious institutes in the country, the IITs, to be flooded with girl students. However, the reality is different. Surprisingly, an abysmally small number of girls join the IITs, with girls making up just 8% of the student strength across all IITs presently. 

Pursuing engineering from the IITs is a dream for millions of Indians. The big Indian IIT dream is being sold by coaching institutes like hotcakes. Parents want to send their children to the IITs to ensure a bright future for their children that “Brand IIT” has come to symbolise. It is the same dream that drives thousands to spend their teen years in Rajasthan’s Kota, the epicentre for the IIT JEE coaching that has taken over the senior secondary science education in the country. 

Getting admission to the IITs is considered a task possible only for the 'Highly Intelligent Minds'. It offers possibly the best pool of faculty in the country and is home to new ideas along with lucrative packages.With such great offerings, what is keeping the girls away from the gates of the elite institutes? 

Choice of career

In India, most of the life-defining career decisions are taken by a child’s parent without giving much thought to their wards’ aptitude and interests. IIT, to most parents in India, is a brand which promises great learning and salary packages of   many hundreds of thousands. 

Fortunately, there are parents who let their children follow their heart and let their dreams soar. This encourages them to set out on a voyage of self-discovery. After all, not everyone is after money alone. There are children who find happiness in doing something they love. Be it the arts, sports or their own boss, there are things which bring a sense of satisfaction and happiness to many, feelings which cannot be bought with money. 

Financial Issues

Higher Education and Coaching Institutes do burn a big hole in their pockets. The fees for these institutes are skyrocketing. This burden of coaching institutes, college fees and cost of living is way too high for a lot of them. The harsh reality is that in a society which believes daughters are destined to leave their homes to stay with their in-laws, investing lakhs on their education is never considered a smart option. A graduation in pure sciences comes easy and cheap. Societal biases are one of the major factors for poor ratio of women in IITs. Most girls don’t have access to the kind of facilities that boys of their age have. Most parents are not willing to invest in their daughter’s  coaching for the IITs. As a result of this, girls are denied a fair playing field in the entrance exams.

Notion of engineering being unsuitable for girls

Take a look around a typical Indian engineering firm today, and you'd be lucky to spot more than a handful of women employees. In India, in particular, it seems to be the industry's reputation that is holding women back. Engineering is often viewed as a career option for males.  It’s not necessarily a misogynistic industry as such, but it has always attracted more men. It could be suggested that women automatically reject these types of jobs without even finding out much about them. 

There is a vicious circle as the lack of women mentors makes it more challenging to inspire the next generation of young women to enter the profession.

Safety Concerns

Incidentally, recent developments have highlighted the Indian streets as being unsafe for women. In a country, where girls can’t move out after sunset safely, going for coaching classes which go till late in the evening while staying away from home for four long years is a very big deal. Hence, for many girls, there is a problem of their families imposing restrictions on them due to safety concerns.

What’s next?

E-Learning, which has been serving the masses lately, comes as a boon to many girls who cannot afford to go to coaching classes and seek quality education. Smartphone and Internet connectivity gives them access to the most renowned teachers across India without even moving out of their home. The fact that all this can be acquired just by spending nominal amount is encouraging and hopefully will boost the dismal numbers.

Concerned by the slump in the number of female candidates at the IIT, the Joint Admission Board (JAB) decided to admit more women from the 2018 academic session. The board has approved a quota of supernumerary seats for women in a phased manner, reaching up to 20% by 2026 and would start at 14% from this year.

In an age when we can be proud of gender equality, engineering continues to stand out as one of the few remaining male-dominated sectors. But if the sector is to achieve the growth potential that is predicted for the coming decade, a concerted effort is needed to attract more women into the profession.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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