As per practice, the first public engagement of the successive Indian Prime Ministers has been with scientists. However, scientific education in India has been short-changed for creating an army of clerks. STEM education is catching up fast globally and India cannot ignore it. Gandharv Walia of Elets News Network reports
- Indian-born plant scientist Sanjaya Rajaram named winner of USD 250,000 World Food Prize 2014 for contribution in increasing global wheat production by more than 200 million tonnes.
- Jayant Abhir, a student of class X, won bronze at 11th National Geographic World Championship in Russia.
- Team Screwdrivers from Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management and Engineering, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies participated in the13th Annual Marine Advanced Technology Education ROV International Competition at Alpena, Michigan USA, June 26 -28, 2014. They are the only team which qualified and participated from India for this international competition.
- India has become a permanent member of the Washington Accord, enabling global recognition of Indian degrees which will facilitate the mobility of engineers to other signatory countries, including the US, the UK and Australia, for jobs.
These are just some of the many instances that give a peek into India’s huge untapped potential in STEM subjects. For the uninitiated, STEM refers to a curriculum based on educating students in four specific academic disciplines – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The acronym STEM is an amalgamation of the above mentioned fields.
In the United States of America, where the acronym was first coined, STEM is used for addressing the education policy and curriculum choices in schools from K-12 through college to improve competitiveness in technological development.
“By 2018, 1 in 20 global jobs will be STEM-related an estimated 2.8 million jobs in total. Over 90 per cent of those opportunities will require secondary degrees, and over two-thirds will require a bachelor’s degree,” said Asheesh Sharma, Executive Academic Head & Vice President (Business Strategy), Resonance Eduventures Private Limited.
Considered vital to workforce development and national security among others, STEM educates students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. It integrates these four fields into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.
As inspiring as the idea may sound, the ground reality in India is nothing short of a sad irony. Students in India have been unable to make the most out of STEM education due to an acute lack of vision, initiative and technology. “Our education policy makers should seriously start integrating STEM as part of the curriculum from class VII to IX to make STEM effective,” observes Althaf Basha, Senior Vice President and CMO,GA Software Technologies Private Limited.
A quick look at the education scenario in India can help us make better sense. India has over 1.4 million schools and 35,000 higher education institutions. As per the Population Census of India 2011, the literacy rate of the country stands at 74.04 per cent; while the pupil-teacher ratio in India was last recorded at 35:15 in 2011, according to World Bank findings. Although rating agency CARE Ltd has valued the market size of the Indian education industry at Rs. 3.83 trillion in 2013-14, the call for a holistic approach and making a paradigm shift from creating an army of clerks to creating millions of innovative entrepreneurs is not misplaced.
From a purely economic stand point, students would benefit from better STEM education because the fields are expanding more quickly than any other besides the healthcare industry. “By 2018, 1 in 20 global jobs will be STEM-related an estimated 2.8 million jobs in total. Over 90 per cent of those opportunities will require secondary degrees, and over two-thirds will require a bachelor’s degree,” said Asheesh Sharma, Executive Academic Head & Vice President (Business Strategy), Resonance Eduventures Private Limited.
STEM is not just for scientists anymore. In today’s economy, almost any job with a decent pay requires STEM skills, and many jobs require advanced STEM abilities. Everyone from President Obama to Steve Jobs has weighed in on the topic in recent years – the former to pledge money to new education initiatives, and the latter to praise China for their relative preponderance of engineering talent.
India and China are the biggest knowledge-based workforce nations of the world. India is a leading exporter of IT-skilled workforce, which comprises of mathematicians, engineers and technologists among others. Consider this in the context of the demand for sound professionals globally. STEM education is highly beneficial as it can ensure global employment and these skills are required to be competitive in the global race for energy development, creating and maintaining a healthy economy, and fostering innovation and excellence.
For India, the scenario presents immense opportunity along with some tough challenges. Several private and government initiatives have been undertaken to introduce and establish STEM initiatives in primary, secondary and higher education in India, but they are neither concerted nor consistent. Under the pilot project Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, the Ohio State University has also been awarded a highly competitive grant from the US India Education Foundation (USIEF) for training STEM faculty in partnership with the Aligarh Muslim University.
Still, in effect, there are no visible concrete measures by the government to impart STEM education collectively in schools and colleges in a proper manner. Add to that the dearth of STEM teachers, ill-equipped schools and the outdated curriculum and we have a worrying scenario. Needless to say, there are numerous changes that need to be brought in. From teachers’ training, curricula to methods of teaching STEM subjects, everything needs to change if we aim to fare well globally. There is a need for several programmes, internships, scholar- ships, and research programmes focused on developing the next generation of STEM professionals.
“STEM is not just for scientists anymore. In today’s economy, almost any job with a decent pay requires STEM skills, and many jobs require advanced STEM abilities”
The STEM edge
With globalisation, there is a need to develop global citizens. Experts indicate that the best employers, the world over, are looking for the most competent, creative and innovative people, who can think creatively, make judgments, are capable of solving complex and multidisciplinary problems, possess good communication and collaboration skills, and make innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities. STEM education in schools is being encouraged worldwide to develop these skills among students to prepare next generation scientists, engineers, architects and technology professionals. “STEM education has a big role to play in the growth of our country, both technically and financially. It will empower our students to have a bright future. To obtain this goal, the country’s educational institutions would require selection of suitable curriculum, requisite budget and trained faculty, which at present is a great challenge,” said Ashok K Sehgal, CEO, CAT-5 Broadcast.
In the coming decades, most population forecasts predict that developed countries would be deficit in working population whereas India would have the largest pool of working population. “Technical and research writing conforming to international standards need emphasis in India both at K12 (school) and college level,” said Sarvesh Shrivastava, MD, Encyclopedia Britannica – South Asia. “Investing in STEM education spurs innovation and entrepreneurship, supports employment growth and fuels the country’s economic growth, enabling it to stay competitive in a global environment,” said Ashutosh Chadha, Director, Corporate Affairs Group, Intel South Asia.
“STEM education has a big role to play… To obtain this goal, the country’s educational institutions would require selection of suitable curriculum, requisite budget and trained faculty, which at present is a great challenge” – Ashok K Sehgal, CEO, CAT-5 Broadcast
Technology should not only rightfully enter the classrooms, but should also be integrated in learning, teaching, assessment and evaluation. Logical thinking, simplification of a problem, examining data, problem solving are some of the many skills that STEM education imparts. “It equips children to face the real world challenges. Through the Flow programme, we teach students how to make links across subjects, to think about the same topic through a variety of lenses. It opens up the way to approach a problem,” said Eliza, Co-founder and Managing Director, Flow India.
The twin challenges in imparting STEM education is the dearth of teachers with the requisite skills to effectively teach these subjects using ‘active learning’ methods and the willingness of teachers to take risks in the pursuit of accommodating students and furthering STEM
More than ever, India needs to move from traditional teaching methods to a robust and application-based curriculum. Infrastructure and shallow reach of technology-enabled education methods are the biggest challenges for imparting STEM education in India. “Ability to make resources available at grassroots level and junking traditional methods of teaching still remain a key area of concern. Initiatives in future should be made to fill the void in basic education in remote communities to reduce the disparities in educational opportunities,” said Kulbhushan Seth, Vice President, Casio India Company Private Limited.
The two big challenges in imparting STEM education is the dearth of teachers with the requisite skills to effectively teach these subjects using ‘active learning’ methods and the willingness of teachers to take risks in the pursuit of accommodating students and furthering STEM. “Some teachers, who are willing to go an extra mile, face difficulty in arranging materials for experiments in the little time that they get free. Another challenge is to schedule these hands-on classes that require longer time slots in the already tight school time table. At a more fundamental level, the awareness about the importance of STEM education has begun only recently. Many school leaders still look at these programmes as good-to-have rather than must have,” said Gagan Goyal, Founder & CEO, ThinkLABS.
Schools even today approach each of the disciplines of STEM individually and there is no effort wherein all the four come together. “Many schools procure resources and start using it, but gradually due to various reasons like teacher churn, lack of time, higher priorities such as exams, the usage dwindles. STEM has to be made a part of the curriculum,” said Beas Dev Ralhan, CEO, Next Education India Private Limited.
Availability of appropriate and optimal resources for STEM education is another big challenge. “The delivery model of STEM education must be critically analysed. Appropriate training and development must be provided to the facilitators of STEM education. More harm than help is being done due to lack of such facilitation skills,” added Rakesh Dandu, Founder & CEO, LFX Technologies Private Limited.
Furthermore, there is a communication gap between teachers and students, which needs to be filled at the earliest. “We need a strong system and even a stronger administration to implement the entire concept from the grassroots level to higher level so that we can see a real change in the society,” said Satyam Malhotra, Founder, TiF-India.
“STEM education is best done with an element of fun and games, it keeps the students interested. Schools also need to do a lot of mentoring with the students and show them the importance of STEM education” – Ankur Rohatgi, Head – Strategy and Alliances, IL&FS Education and Technology Services Limited
Best ways to teach STEM
Grounding STEM education in ‘real-life’ practical problems especially related to the workplace can form a strong foundation and is easy to grasp for the students. More and more participation of students in original research projects should be encouraged so that they become aware of its importance and applications. Moreover, institutions must focus on innovative content, accessibility, and delivery platforms to address the needs of today’s students and better understand how pedagogy and technology must interconnect to satisfy the needs of a drator contribution. matic evolution in how learning is happening.
School students also need to explore subject matter content by conducting experiments, drawing flowcharts, constructing models, watching videos and go beyond the knowledge level to higher level of thinking. “STEM education is best done with an element of fun and games, it keeps the students interested. Schools also need to do a lot of mentoring with the students and show them the importance of STEM education,” said Ankur Rohatgi, Head – Strategy and Alliances, IL&FS Education and Technology Services Limited.
Schools also have a responsibility to ensure that principals and teachers act as the drivers for change. “The school should plan the curriculum diligently and focus on making instructions interesting. Parents and local community should be encouraged to get actively involved in supporting the school for their children’s academic success,” said Shreevats Jaipuria, Vice Chairman, Jaipuria Group.
Initiatives by GOVERNMENT
Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) programme by the Department of Science & Technology for attracting young talent to the excitements of a creative pursuit of science as a career option and building the required critical human resource pool for strengthening and expanding the Science & Technology system and R&D base in the country.
Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) is an on going National Programme of Fellowships in Basic Sciences, initiated and funded by the Department of Science and Technology to attract exceptional and highly motivated students for pursuing basic science courses and research career in science.
Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education has been made the country’s nodal centre for Olympiad programmes in mathematics and sciences. The programmes aim at promoting excellence in science and mathematics among pre-university students.
The Silver Lining
In terms of policy, India’s National Science, Technology, Innovation Policy released in January 2013 aims to position India among top 5 scientific powers in the world by 2020. It also looks to make careers in science, research and innovation attractive, set up world class R&D infrastructure and also raise gross expenditure in R&D to two percent from the present one per cent of the GDP in this decade by encouraging enhanced private sector contribution.
In line with this vision, Intel India has launched the National Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Acceleration Programme to strengthen STEM education in the country recently. The programme will endeavour to focus on initiatives aimed towards promoting creativity, innovation and a do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude amongst students across the country. As a part of this programme, Intel India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with The National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) to strengthen the research culture for students across the country and build innovation resources.
Many other companies are also developing content for subjects of science and mathematics for students of various boards in both English and Hindi for classes I-XII. “We primarily focus on rural areas. We are working with various delivery partners for implementation of such content in schools, institutes and coaching centres. In Madhya Pradesh itself, we have over 5,000 academic centres in rural areas where we deliver our content. There is a similar trend in states like UP, Rajasthan, etc,” said Rakesh Dandu, Founder & CEO, LFX Technologies Private Limited.
Similarly, some projects undertaken at Hindustan University have been among the top ten entries in the NASA Tech Briefs-Create the Future Design Contest 2013, where around 1,354 entries came in. These include Solar Powered Road Cleaning Robot for waste disposal (rank 1) developed by Dr D Dinakaran (School of Mechanical Sciences), Tsunami Coastal Communication & Warning System (rank 2) developed by SudalaiMuthu T (School of Computing Sciences), a Night Safety Alert Messaging System for Vehicles through Vehicular AdhocNetworks (rank 6) developed by Thangakumar J (School of Computing Sciences), informs Ashok Verghese, Director, Hindustan University.
In March 2014, LS Creative Learnings Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore-based firm, launched STEM education in collaboration with Dr Tairo Nomura of Saitama University, Tokyo. This pilot project has been initiated by Japan. LSC signed an MoU with the Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT) for the project and has already been rolled out in two government schools at Veerabhadranagar and Hosakerehalli in South Bangalore. On completion of the project, DSERT will evaluate students’ performance to recommend its introduction to other government schools. Other schools where the project has been implemented include Bishop Cotton Boys School, St John’s High School, Indus International School and Baldwin School.
Amrita University has also been promoting STEM educa- tion through various initiatives. Amrita Virtual Interactive E-learning World (A-VIEW) is used to train 10,000 engineering teachers at a time (T10KT), using 337 established remote centers across India. A-VIEW was also used by Prof Jhunjhunwala, IIT Madras, for the Quality Enhancement in Engineering Education (QEEE) programme, where IIT teachers conducted courses for six weeks for 100 colleges. The Virtual Labs focus on interdisciplinary research in higher education and has successfully trained over 50,000 students throughout India. Amrita Multi Modal Applications using Computer Human Interaction (AMMACHI) Labs foster technological innovation in vocational training. “Over 3,000 women have been trained by this initiative. The Online Labs (Olabs) are based on the idea that lab experiments can be taught using the internet, more efficiently and less expensively. This helps students in less privileged schools to compete with students in better equipped schools and bridges the digital divide and geographical distances. The project has trained over 30,000 teachers,” said Prof Kamal Bijlani, Director, Amrita E-Learning Research Lab.
It is perhaps an indication of the social recognition that STEM has started to garner popularity. Subjects like game design, robotics, actuarial science, forensic science, bio-medicine, biotechnology, linguistics, etc, which were unheard till a few years back, are some of the most sought after STEM courses now. “Though, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering courses still hold the top slots, there is a five per cent rise every year in the number of students selecting these unconventional courses,” said Jaideep Gupta, CEO and Founder, Univariety.
There is no doubt that India needs to catch up with the rest of the world in promoting STEM education. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision and emphasis on developing India as a future leader in science and technology, one can certainly hope for opening up of opportunities – both in terms of employment and investment.
The US Scenario
Though the US has historically been a leader in these fields, fewer students have been seen focusing on these topics re- cently. According to the US Department of Education, only 16 per cent of high school students are interested in a STEM ca- reer and have proven a proficiency in mathematics. Currently, nearly 28 per cent of high school freshmen declare an interest in a STEM-related field, a department website says, but 57 per cent of these students will lose interest by the time they graduate from high school.
In a move to bridge this gap, the Obama administration announced the 2009 ‘Educate to Innovate’ campaign to motivate and inspire students to excel in STEM subjects. The goal is to get American students from the middle of the pack in science and math to the top of the pack in the international arena. This campaign also addresses the inadequate number of teachers skilled to educate in these subjects. Some companies like Lock- heed Martin, Intel, etc have started working to strengthen STEM education for a better future. The US government funnels $4.3 billion every year into STEM education-related initiatives.
A report released by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) throws some interesting facts about India that our policy makers need to take into account. As per the report, India has the highest number of STEM students. As many as 78 per cent of the Indian students are enrolled in STEM categories, while the figure for China is 37 per cent. The report futher states that India accounts for the second largest number of international students in the country while China, with 290,133 students is at the top. Over three-fourth of Indian students are enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.
There is no doubt that India needs to catch up with the rest of the world in promoting STEM education. One only needs to look at the kind of funds that the US government is funnelling into STEM education to understand how significant it is to them. Moreover, the worry that the US may lag behind has valuable lessons for India as well. We might have missed the high growth bus during the 60s and 70s, unlike the Asian tigers. But, we can certainly ill-afford this luxury in current times. India’s newly- elected Prime Minister does not have a magic wand to transform things overnight. But with his vision and emphasis on developing India as a future leader in science and technology, one can certainly hope for opening up of opportunities both in terms of employment and investment.