Vice President calls for bridging gender divide in STEM-related employment

New Delhi: Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, today said that while India produces the highest percentage of women STEM graduates in the world (about 40 percent), their share in STEM jobs in India is very low at 14 per cent and needs to be improved. He further added that under-representation in post-graduate and doctoral studies too needs to be rectified expeditiously.

In this regard, Shri Naidu noted that the Government’s efforts in improving number of girl students in IITs has led and said their number went up from just 8 percent in 2016 to nearly 20 percent now. He also appreciated the Department of Science & Technology’s ‘Women Scientists Program’ as a laudable initiative that encourages women to take up careers in science and maths. He said that we must celebrate our women scientists and create role models for the girl child in the field of science.

Speaking at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), Chennai, the Vice President spoke about the trends in STEM and how we can tap the potential of the data science revolution in job creation. Shri Naidu observed that data has changed the way business is done and that we must look beyond our traditional engineering curriculum to equip our young graduates with these new skill-sets. This way, we must remain relevant to the current demands of the industry, he added.

Expressing his happiness at the proliferation of distance education courses offered by national institutes like IITs, he wanted technical courses to be offered in regional languages to benefit more number of students.

Stressing the importance of making science education available in local languages, the Vice President said that it will help students in understanding the subject better and will help in innovation. Stating that no language should be imposed or opposed, he called upon the people to learn as many languages as possible but give primacy to the mother tongue.

Speaking about the importance of mathematics and India’s rich legacy in the subject, Shri Naidu referred to the invaluable contribution made by the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Calling for unearthing hidden talent among children, the Vice President underlined that there was no dearth of talent among children and that it was important to find and nurture the talent.

Praising the scientists who made the indigenous Covid-19 vaccine possible, Shri Naidu called it a big leap in science for India. The Vice President also said that he feels confident about the future of the nation because of the tremendous efforts being put by our scientists and the enthusiasm of young researchers. He was of the view that the purpose of all R&D is betterment of the people’s lives.

Referring to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Vice President highlighted the need to respect nature. He cautioned that climate change is real and its negative impacts will affect our lives. Emphasizing the need to live in harmony with nature, Shri Naidu called upon the people to adopt a healthy lifestyle by practicing Yoga and eating properly cooked & nutritious food.

Shri Naidu also expressed concern over the increasing tendency of overusing the mobile phone among the youngsters as this causes unnecessary distraction. He also said that for overall growth and development of the students, schools need to include activities like Yoga, gardening and social work in their curriculum.

Observing that many children get intimidated by the mathematics and develop fear and anxiety at the prospect of learning the subject, he urged educators to substitute the practice of rote memorization with creative methods and hands-on activities to make children friends with numbers, Shri Naidu urged.

In order to achieve this, the Vice President suggested that the provisions of New Education Policy should be fully capitalised and pedagogical changes be brought into primary education. He added that a strong foundational STEM must be complemented by encouraging children to take up careers in science. He also urged the private sector to partner with academic institutes to strengthen STEM research.

The Vice President appreciated the efforts of IMSc in furthering quality fundamental research, particularly its involvement in India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO),the mega-science project. He expressed confidence that this ambitious project will elevate India’s global position as a leader in scientific research.

Shri Naidu also appreciated the institute for undertaking science outreach programs in Tamil Nadu and stressed that the need of the hour is to inculcate scientific temper in people, especially in children.

On this occasion, the Vice President also virtually inaugurated the New Residential Wing of the IMSc at DAE Nodal Centre, Pallavaram, Chennai.

Tamil Nadu Minister for Higher Education, Shri K.P. Anbalagan, Prof. V. Arvind, Director, IMSc, Dr. Arun Kumar Bhaduri, Director, IGCAR, Dept. Of Atomic Energy, Kalpakkam, Smt. Selvi Apoorva, Principal Secretary to Government, Higher Education Department, Tamil Nadu, Shri S Vishnu Prasad, Registrar, IMSc, students and staff were present on the occasion.

Following is the full text of the speech –

“I am indeed very pleased to come to the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. It is very energizing to physically interact with the faculty and students of this hallowed institution. As we continue to fight against COVID and maintain safe distancing, we have also come to appreciate the value of real relationships and real interactions in our lives. I am hopeful that this event is a sign of better things to come, and I wish you all a happy, prosperous, safe and most importantly, a healthy new year.

Dear sisters and brothers,

The great German mathematician Gauss has been often quoted as saying that “Mathematics is the queen of sciences”. Mathematics is perhaps the main driving force behind scientific discoveries. Indeed, the progress of human civilization over the ages can be marked by corresponding progress in mathematical thought and discovery.

India has a rich history of practicing mathematics since ancient times. We had stalwarts like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira and Brahmagupta who made discoveries and used algebraic techniques that were well ahead of the rest of the world. The earliest source on Indian mathematics was the Sulbasutras from the Vedic period. Sutras like Apastamba and Baudhayana contain the geometric detail for construction of sacrificial altars and for other rituals.

In the spirit of our philosophy of ‘share and care’, our knowledge was shared. Our numerals were borrowed by Arab traders, which later spread to medieval Europe and are now known as the ‘Hindu-Arabic numeral system’. Acknowledging these contributions, Albert Einstein once said, “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”

This rich legacy in mathematics continued in modern times too. The great Indian mathematician Ramanujan had captured the imagination of the people world over. With almost no formal training, he made important contributions to mathematical analysis and number theory. Without employment and living in the ordinary conditions, he continued his work undeterred. Finally, only when the English mathematician G.H.Hardy noted his work, Ramanujam travelled to Cambridge, England and became one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society. Hardy considered that Ramanujam’s genius could only be compared to mathematical greats like Leonhard Euler. In a short but eventful life, Ramanujam produced nearly 4000 amazing original results; His notes had original theorems that took years for other mathematicians to prove! His genius of looking at the specialty in each number is unmatched and legendary.

His inspirational story must motivate us to discover many more Ramanujams in our children. Always remember: there is no dearth of talent… there is a dearth in finding and nurturing this talent.

No doubt, mathematics and science as subjects are enticing, exciting and invigorating to the human mind. But more than just being numbers and tool for finding new discoveries, they have, more importantly, been the lifeline of human progress. Mathematics and science drive technological innovations, which in turn advances the mode of production of goods and ultimately propels the economy. Thus, mathematics and science can bring innovations that will make the common man’s life comfortable.

Brothers and sisters,

We all know that mathematics is introduced at a very young age in our school curriculum. It is deemed as part of a child’s basic or elementary education. Unfortunately, many children get intimidated by the subject and simply develop fear and anxiety at the prospect of learning mathematics. This fear can be removed only by arousing the interest of the child in the subject. Therefore, the method of teaching plays a crucial role in making children passionate about maths. An important issue that needs to be addressed is rote memorization even in mathematics. Many a time, children simply memorize the answer from a textbook and reproduce it in the exam. This has to be stopped and the child must be trained to think creatively and analytically. Undoubtedly, better teacher training and revamped curriculum are crucial to revitalize primary education. But more importantly, educators must adopt creative methods to invigorate young minds. Puzzles, demonstrations and other hands-on activities could be utilized to make children become friends with numbers. A pedantic manner of teaching should be replaced with a more interactive and inclusive method.

The New Education Policy seeks to do away with rigid separation between arts and sciences, curricular and extra-curricular and vocational and academic streams. We must fully capitalize on this vision document and bring in pedagogical changes that will ignite the passion of the young learners in subjects like mathematics.

Foundational mathematics and science form the basis for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. We must nurture and encourage children to take up careers in science. Any country that aspires to be at the forefront of human knowledge needs to invest in fundamental scientific research, including mathematics.

In order to strengthen STEM education, we must look beyond government funding. The private sector has an equal opportunity and responsibility to fund and partner with institutions and to collaborate on STEM projects. This is the global best-practice which has been bringing a lot of benefits for the investor too. Easy IP and patenting regime will also go a long way in encouraging STEM research and the government has been taking many initiatives in this regard.

Dear sisters and brothers, a major issue of concern in STEM-related employment is the under-representation of women. While about 40 per cent of STEM graduates in India are women, which is the highest in the world, women’s share in STEM jobs in India is a mere 14 per cent. Even more worrisome is the poor women’s participation in post-graduate and doctoral studies. Diversity in STEM is absolutely necessary and the need of the hour is to bridge the gender divide in employment. We must look at the cause for this dismal under-representation of women in science and technology jobs and take steps to rectify the situation expeditiously.

I am happy to note that with government’s efforts, the number of girl students in IITs, which was just 8 per cent in 2016 has increased to nearly 20 percent now. The Department of Science & Technology’s ‘Women Scientists Program’ is a laudable initiative that encourages women to take up careers in science and maths. We must celebrate our women scientists and mathematicians and showcase them as role models to our young girls so that we can discover many more talented and hidden Asima Chatterjees, Janaki Ammals and Shakuntala Devis.

Mathematics and statistics were once looked at as niche fields of research and were not popular career domains. Much has changed in the past few years. There has been a revolutionary change in the way business is done with the advent of data science and data-driven decision making. This was aided by advancement in computing facilities and the emergence of artificial intelligence. Now, mathematical modelling and statistical analysis have become an indispensable skill-set in many industries. This field is only expected to grow in the coming years as more and more businesses, governments and other organizations seek to leverage the power of data.

Our young demography and a growing economy imply that there is both an increasing demand for work and a skilled workforce. In this context, data science is an important area that needs to be fully tapped for ensuring job-creation. We must look beyond our traditional science and engineering curricula and we must equip young graduates with these new skill-sets. Else, they will become out-dated and the degree will remain only on paper. For this, institutes such as yours and others could offer micro-courses in statistics, computer science and related subjects. The proliferation of distance education courses offered by national institutes like IITs is a good augury. But most of these courses are still in English. We need to offer them in regional languages so that more students get benefited from such courses.

Brothers and sisters,

This institute was founded in 1962 as a National Institute of Higher Learning to pursue quality fundamental research. I must say that it has done outstandingly well in research and is well recognized both– nationally and globally.

I am aware that this institute has been involved with the proposed mega-science project called India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO). This project aims to build a world-class underground lab close to Madurai to study the exotic and elusive particles called neutrinos. The detectors to be located there will be built indigenously with active participation from industry. There will be a lot of positive takeaways from this ambitious project, and it will elevate India’s global position as a leader in scientific research. I am also pleased to note that research is being undertaken by IMSc in other important areas like quantum computing, condensed matter physics and high energy physics.

I must also compliment this institute for contributing to the growth of science in Tamil Nadu through various research collaborations and science outreach programs like “science at the sabha”. This is the need of the hour– to inculcate scientific temper in people, especially in children. I must congratulate this institute for excelling in its mandate and leading the development of mathematical sciences in India.

Once again, I am very glad to be present with you all today. I am also happy to have virtually inaugurated the New Residential Wing of the IMSc Campus.

My best wishes to the IMSc fraternity for all the future endeavours.

May you continue to find magic in numbers!

May the country prosper, guided by science and reason!

May we all collectively thrive in this new world!

Jai Hind!”