Choice & Circumstance: STEM aspirations among adolescents in Gujarat

Anandi1, from Rapar in Kutch, of a pastoralist community, speaks of how girls in her village are not allowed to study further. Anandi has managed to convince her parents. Rani, who is in a similar situation, says her parents are angry with her choice. Lahi tells us that she has discussed pursuing computer learning with her parents. Bidiya from Junagadh, on the other hand, laments that girls from her caste are not encouraged to continue education. 

Anandi, Rani, Lahi, and Bidiya and many young adolescents like them face several barriers to access higher education and to choose subjects of their choice. Their challenges are marked and made acute by socio-cultural factors; their caste, class, and location. For instance, For Anandi from Kutch, the gender norms are worse than her counterparts in the tribal belt of South Gujarat. Each of the different region’s histories and cultures intersperses to determine the challenges and opportunities for young adolescent girls. Often several of them will face a backlash from parents for their choices. At other times, adolescent girls tend to believe the self-limiting beliefs they have heard regarding their abilities. 

Quest Alliance’s work in Gujarat under the IBM STEM for Girls program reaches 14,000 students in Gujarat and works to enable girls to break some of these shackles, encourage them to pursue their dreams, and strives to break gender stereotypes to enhance their agency and make informed career and life choices. As part of the program, to build on the experience from the field and to generate primary evidence to inform the program, we undertook research with 345 students (85% girls and 15% boys) in the government secondary schools of Gujarat across 15 districts2 to investigate young adolescents’ ability to choose subjects of study,  the barriers they face in employing these choices and the interventions required to empower them to exercise these choices. 

Despite gains in higher education for women, research shows a clustering of women in particular sectors like health care and assistance, nursing, and clerical jobs3. The highest gaps are in engineering and technology accounting for only 10-20% female participation4.  According to AISHE5, The Engineering and technology enrolments for 2018-19 are 71.1 percent male and 29.9 percent female. It is partly because the nature of subjects is already determined to be gendered, with STEM subjects specifically considered to be masculine. These gaps, if not addressed, run the risk of further exclusion of women in a workplace where trends in the future of work suggest the highest increase of jobs in the technology sector. 8 out of the 10 fastest-growing jobs are in the technology sector6. Additionally, our recent research study7 “STEM Mindset, Careers and Women” shows that STEM skills and mindsets are essential requirements across sectors. Against this, considering that math, science, and technology are emerging as top skills required across careers now and in the future, we must examine two critical queries: where and how do young women enter an increasingly STEM-oriented economy? What amounts to true choice, and are young women able to employ it? 

An empowered choice should include a critical understanding of one’s own beliefs, the infrastructure to enable these choices – instead of adaptive preferences – and the agency given to adolescents to employ this choice. Against this, in Gujarat, we find that several factors contribute to adolescent decisions. 

Geography Matters. So does Infrastructure.
Nearly 62% of respondents base their decisions on education on the proximity of schools to their homes. Additionally, teacher availability, capability to grasp a subject and context, ability to manage classwork and housework, as well as job prospects are key elements that determine subject choices among secondary school students in Gujarat. Interestingly, the tribal belt of South Gujarat(1) showed the highest uptake for Science subjects, despite being one of the state’s poorer regions. This could suggest that economic conditions can only be marginally relevant, while gender, space for autonomy, and infrastructure hold greater value toward making subject matter choices. We also noted that students from districts considered under North and Central Gujarat were more focused on self-related outcomes (“I will find job satisfaction”) whereas students in Southern Gujarat were seen to place a higher value on social outcomes (“My family’s social status will improve”). 

Career Pathway Information is Critical
One key finding of the study was the information gap regarding Science careers. Many students have little to no knowledge of potential career choices available to them. Many of them do not pursue science subjects (even if they are initially inclined to do so) due to a false belief that jobs in the science stream are few and far between. 

Relevance of Growth Mindsets
Ability-based biases were seen to be predominant among most students. The belief that only “intelligent” students can take up science and math is prevalent amongst adolescents, with nearly 70% of students admitting to the belief that one’s intelligence determines their math and science abilities. Close to 55% of students believe that an “innate ability” in these subjects cannot be changed. Both boys and girls were found to hold these fixed, limiting beliefs about who can succeed, based on ability, as well as exam scores. However, girls scored worse than boys. 

Gender is a key mediator of choice
The study found gender norms and gender stereotypes play a key role in decision-making among young adolescents. Nearly 37% of the adolescents believed in gendered notions of subjects that  ‘Men are better than women at Science and Math’ thus limiting their choices based on the internalisation of limiting beliefs. Gender norms play a significant role as well. We find that equitable distribution of household work may improve the chances of girls choosing Science. For instance, As noted earlier, the ability to manage housework and schoolwork was a key concern for all students. However, for students choosing Science; this does not emerge in the first three factors influencing decisions. For instance, in districts under Saurashtra regions and Kutch and Morbi region, reasons such as having enough time in classwork and housework (for over 50% of the sample) are prominent determinants for subject choice as opposed to less than 30% in districts considered under Central/North and South Gujarat where Science is preferred more prominently.

The importance of relatable role models and negotiation to employ choice
Our study also found that negotiation is one of the key methods through which girls employ choice. Students use role model examples to convince parents of their career choices, with more favourable opinions towards achievers from one’s community, village, or town. Negotiation was observed to work best for adolescents when parents and students shared an understanding of the possibilities of choosing their desired stream. We find that having relatable role models makes a considerable difference.

Multi-stakeholder model essential 
An adolescent’s socio-cultural landscape strongly influences the choices he/she makes regarding their studies and careers. Our focused study, as well as continuous interventions in the sector, show that multiple actions are required to make a positive impact on an adolescent’s choice and decision-making. Firstly, evidence-based approaches must be used to understand the nuances of regions and geographies. Further, since the choices an adolescent makes are situated amidst family, school, and societal structures, engagement with multiple stakeholders allows for more impactful shared experiences. Second, Gender – related interventions must be addressed also towards boys. The evidence from our research points significantly to the fact that girls fare much better on gender awareness issues. 

Bringing girls to a place of power will need interventions to address these challenges. These will include understanding the location-specific challenges of the adolescent, addressing self-limiting beliefs towards STEM subjects and careers, addressing the paucity of knowledge in relation to career-thinking and potential career pathways that are available, introducing relatable role models, and engaging with parents and community towards better gender norms. 

Written by:
Priyanka Krishna
Research Specialist, Quest Alliance

 (1) All names are anonymised
(2)   Districts considered for the study: Ahmedabad, Banaskantha, Mehsana (clubbed under North and Central Gujarat). Jamnagar, Botad, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Junagadh (clubbed under Sourashtra regions), Kutch and Morbi, and Narmada, Surat, Dang, Chota Udepur (clubbed as South for purpose of study to gain implementation specific details)
(3) https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/the-future-of-women-at-work-transitions-in-the-age-of-automation
(4)  http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/science-technology/engineering/women-in-engineering/
(5)   http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/reports
(6)  Emerging Jobs: India, The fastest growing jobs in the country, LinkedIn, September 2018.
(7) https://www.questalliance.net/our-publications

Songs & Stories from Quest 2 Learn 2021

Live storyboard of the Q2L Songs & Stories event by Tanvee Nabar.

During the pandemic, educators and learners both faced various challenges in delivering and accessing learning. Despite the bleak scenario prevailing during the pandemic, there were learners, educators, parents and policymakers who came up with innovative solutions to ensure that the learning process continued. To bring the stories and experiences of these individuals on a common platform, the curtain raiser to the Quest 2 Learn (Q2L) 2021, Quest 2 Learn stories and songs was organised on 29th July, 2021.
This year, Q2L is hosting a series of dialogues, webinars, and panel discussions on emphasising the relevance of self-learning to enable a successful school to work transition for our young people in a world struck by the pandemic and other such uncertainties. The three key thematic strands for Q2L, this year, are facilitating a self-learning environment; equity and inclusion in future careers, in a world of pandemic and environmental crisis; and systems change to strengthen collaborative action in the education and employability sectors.
A series of songs based on the principles of ‘Nirgun (without any properties) and Nirbhay’ (fearlessness) was performed throughout the webinar. Educators, learners, parents and CSO partners, government and industry bodies attended the webinar on 29 July.

Facilitating a self-learning environment
Amar Prakash, a parent from the Patori block in Bihar, shared that he conducted surveys in his community, which found that children were demotivated due to prolonged school closure. He engaged the children in his community, by taking them to farms and gardens, and by using art forms. Amar also worked closely with other parents and older children to facilitate a self-learning environment. This story was motivating for all the audience in the webinar.
Another inspiring story of self-learning was shared by Sachin Kumar, a grade 9 student from Bihar. When the pandemic hit and schools closed, Sachin was unable to access learning and education. However, he took steps to enable learning for himself and his peers. He took a few important steps in this regard. First, he used the Anandshala Resource Center to access the Unnayan App to continue his learning. Then, he began the Gaon Bana Vidyalaya initiative, where he engaged young students in learning from his village through art and play. Sachin’s friends started similar initiatives in their own communities after being inspired by him. At the end of sharing this story, Sachin called out all young people to share their skills and knowledge with children in their communities to enable continued learning.
The stories above are based on the theme of ‘Facilitating a self-learning environment’. It will engage with a new narrative that shifts power to learners.

Equity and Inclusion.
Soni Marandi, an educator from Jharkhand focused on the theme of equity and inclusion. Being a survivor of early, child marriage herself, Soni is now a Girl champion in the Anandshala programme who, advocates against child, early and forced marriage in her community. During the pandemic, the amount of unpaid care work substantially increased for young girls. Soni facilitated virtual sessions with these young girls to motivate and support them to continue learning. While school closures persist, Soni’s recommendation is that alternative learning spaces be provided to ensure that young people, particularly girls, continue to have access to learning during the pandemic.
The theme on ‘Equity and Inclusion in future careers, in a world of pandemic and environmental crisis’, in Q2L, will explore the new employability trends, rise of new career opportunities and greater prospects for financial independence, amidst lack of access to resources and opportunities for growth, cultural barriers related to gender, caste and economic status. The current century and the changing economic and workplace trends exacerbated by the pandemic brings a range of opportunities and challenges for the youth. Successful school to work transitions are contingent on equipping them with the right skills needed for the 21st century.

Systems-change to strengthen collaborative action
Dr Avinav Kumar, State Project Officer, Quality Education from Jharkhand, spoke about how a blended learning approach would be needed to ensure continuous learning during the pandemic. In Jharkhand, the Education Department formed Whatsapp groups where teachers and block facilitators were added. These WhatsApp groups were able to reach out to over 15 lakh children. The Department also reached out to parents to orient them on how to guide their children on learning during the pandemic. While these measures were successful in ensuring that learning did not come to a standstill during the pandemic, Dr Kumar recommends that a blended mode of learning is needed to reach children who do not have access to digital devices. He also stressed that children have the ability to self-learn; they just need teachers to act as facilitators and guides.

Systems change to strengthen collaborative action in education and employability, as a theme in Q2L, will explore enhanced engagement with government systems, policymakers, policy and budget influencers in order to co-own the agenda on systems change. There is a need to continue the discussion on self-learning to enable a successful school-to-work transition and hear from a diverse set of stakeholders. In order to fulfil the objective, Quest Alliance organised a three-day summit from 25th to 27th, August, 2021. The conversations featured educators, learners, CSO partners, government partners and officials, funders, and industry representatives, centered around themes such as emerging patterns with COVID-19 and its implications for education ecosystem, role of education technology in self-learning environments, and the future of work and successful transitions for India’s youth.

Read more about the 2021 Q2L Summit here. Watch this space for videos of the sessions, coming soon!

The Q2L Songs & Stories event featured music by Vedi from The Aahvaan Project, and live storyboarding (graphic recording) from Tanvee Nabar at Ladysfinger. Watch a recording of the Q2L Songs & Stories event here.

Written by:
Priyambada Seal
Advocacy Manager, Quest Alliance.

Making informed career decisions.

An analysis of the kind of career decisions taken up by women trainees after their ITI training.

We live in a world of paradoxes and the declining participation of women in the labour force is one such reality that has become a cause of concern and shame for all of us. Despite rising-levels of education in women, year-on-year, the Female Labour Force Participation Rate(FLPR) of women in India is on the decline. This dismal trend represents the way women are perceived in our households, forced to make compromises at every step of their career journeys.

“I was interested in studying engineering but my parents asked me to join this Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and study the beautician course – they did not want me to do an office job and this ITI was near our house,” says Radhika (name changed), Student, State Govt Women ITI

Radhika’s reality is not uncommon among women, who pursue vocational education in government-run women ITIs. The pandemic has only made matters worse and further exacerbated this gender divide in the workforce. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), as of November 2020, 67% of all men of working age (15-64) were employed, in comparison to just 9% of women, who were employed in the same period of time.

The second wave of the pandemic which was more intense and led to an exponentially large number of deaths has made it even more difficult for women to enter the workforce. But, amidst this grim reality, are there new trends in employment for women that have emerged?

“Earlier I was looking for jobs related to my trade but there were so many issues like low salary, timings and distance from home. I then came across a tele-calling role which paid more and I was able to convince my family to take it up, even though it had nothing to do with my trade,” says Nikitaben Tadvi, an alumna of Basic Cosmetology from NSTI, Vadodara.

In March 2021, Quest Alliance analysed the placement trends of 3983 women graduating from ITIs and NSTIs across Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. We specifically looked at what sectors and roles working alumni have taken up.

According to the study, during the pandemic, 46% of the working alumni opted for non-trade based employment, garnering a monthly income of Rs. 8400 which is Rs.600 more than income from trade-specific employment.

This finding must be placed in the context of the challenges women face in ITIs to convince families to allow them to pursue a career. Family support (or the lack of it) plays a pivotal role in key career decisions made by women post course completion. Factors like distance from home & perceptions about the type of jobs women can do play a significant role in ensuring if a young woman enters the workforce.

The findings in that respect indicate that women in ITIs were able to negotiate with families to take up non-trade specific job roles owing to higher average monthly incomes and greater flexibility with respect to location and job timings. New employment options like work from home due to the pandemic has also helped many women enter the workforce.

“I used to work as a teacher before the pandemic. But after I lost my job, I decided to take up a work from home job opportunity as a telecaller. I get paid Rs. 12,000 a month and work from the convenience of my home,” says Janvi Harvi, an alumna of fashion design technology from Govt. ITI, Junagad (woman).

The study also looked into state-specific trends and offered insights on the kind of jobs women in ITIs were pursuing post course-completion.

While Delhi had 42% working alumni who took up trade-specific jobs; Rajasthan on the other hand had 74% women working in trade-specific jobs. The difference in states may be attributed to availability of trade-specific industry, migrant population in a region and the perception of families regarding the kind of employment suitable for women.

Quest Alliance’s intervention in women ITIs and NSTIs since the past four years has helped influence deep seated perceptions in families about the need for women to enter the workforce, and the kind of jobs they can take up. Activities like virtual parent engagement initiated by Quest Alliance in collaboration with ITIs and NSTIs, during the pandemic, have given parents an opportunity to both understand and support the aspirations of their daughters.

“I promise to support my daughter in her career and bring up marriage only when she is of the right age to take decisions on this,” says Jitendra Kumar, a parent of an ITI student in Delhi

Additionally, the Placement Officers in ITIs and NSTIs have also played a pivotal role in negotiating with parents to support their daughters to take up non-trade based jobs. Events like virtual job fairs, industry guest sessions, and job drives organized in collaboration with Quest Alliance have gone a long way in supporting women students in ITIs find a job despite the pandemic.

“The one thing that I am really proud of as a Placement Officer is that even during the pandemic, we were able to place our trainees via a virtual job fair. In UP, women trainees are weary of the private sector. They think that as women the only thing they can do is work as trainers in ITIs or as teachers for the government. It is this deep rooted mindset that we are up against. And, every placement in the private sector feels like a small victory” says Neerja Sood, PO, NSTI (W), Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh

The intervention by Quest Alliance in collaboration with ITIs and NSTIs across states in India is a testament to the fact that a concerted effort in changing deep rooted perceptions about women entering the workforce can bring in long-term behavioral change in families and encourage more women to enter the workforce.

An ecosystem level approach involving all stakeholders (parents, students & institutes) has helped women students in ITIs and NSTIs make use of opportunities like work from home or take up higher paying non-trade based jobs during the pandemic. For a woman to take up work of her choice; she needs to be self-confident, believe in herself and speak out and negotiate. Therefore this choice to work in a trade based or non trade based sector is a function of women’s agency.

Quest Alliance’s intervention has helped women develop this agency and given them the confidence to take control of their careers and learning journey.

Key insights from the study can be seen here.

About the JPM project:
Quest Alliance, supported by JP Morgan, has worked with 84 ITIs and NSTIs across 19 states impacting around 40,000 disadvantaged young women since January 2018. Women are provided essential life and career development skills. The program also seeks to influence systems change, through capacity building of ITI leadership, placement officers and trainers on gender sensitization, industry engagement and placements.

A rapidly changing job market amidst the pandemic highlights the need for promoting self-learning

According to a report by UNICEF India will have 31 crore graduates by 2030, of which 16 crore will lack skills to be employed. This links to the way learning is delivered in Indian classrooms, whether it be in schools or colleges. Indian classrooms have traditionally been very teacher driven, where learners are almost completely dependent on the teacher.

Continue reading “A rapidly changing job market amidst the pandemic highlights the need for promoting self-learning”

Building STEM Mindsets For The Future

While new technologies increasingly change the landscape of work and learning, new skills like creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and digital fluency become vital. The future of work is anchored by technology, and yet, women continue to lag behind men with regard to their access to technology, the skills to use it, and their employment in tech or related industries.

STEM in traditional terms is defined as Science, Technology, Engineering, Math — a group of subjects taught in silos in our existing school system. There is a need to move beyond this siloed approach and look at STEM as a mindset important to build 21st century skills and prepare young people for the future.

Continue reading “Building STEM Mindsets For The Future”

Challenges Young Learners Face in Accessing Online Education During Covid-19

While educators have geared up to deliver digital learning experiences, students have been working to adapt to their new reality, too. This means adjusting not only to life away from the classroom, in whatever location they find themselves now, but also to the new learning environment of the virtual classroom.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education dramatically. At the rate at which the change has happened, it is likely that the integration of digital technology in education will further accelerate, and online learning will eventually become an integral feature education ecosystems.

Continue reading “Challenges Young Learners Face in Accessing Online Education During Covid-19”