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There's gender disparity in the field of STEM: Manoj Balachandran

By Saswati Sarkar,

Manoj Balachandran, Head, CSR, IBM India and South Asia, highlights the importance of coding and STEM learning.

There is a need to bring a gendered lens to innovation and research and fill the gender-based data gaps, says Manoj Balachandran.

Coding or programming language seems to be a game changer in the arena of technology. It helps to solve problems in the most creative way. In the 21st century, coding is not only important for those who want to pursue a career in computer programming but it is also a key component for young learners. So, it has been made a part of the school curriculum too. With the aim of making computer programming more attainable to millennial students, Hindustan Times launched an initiative last year: HT Code-a-thon. This year, the second edition of this coding Olympiad kicked off from August 31. For this initiative, Hindustan Times has collaborated with IBM. Manoj Balachandran, Head, CSR, IBM India and South Asia talks to HT School about the importance of initiatives like code-a-thon and also, sheds light on the importance of STEM learning for students.  

In a country like India, where there is a large gender disparity in the field of education, how can we ensure STEM learning for all?  
India is one of the countries that produce the highest number of scientists and engineers. The growth of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has picked up significantly over the last few years. STEM spearheads research, innovation and problem solving. However, there continues to be a large gender disparity in this field. So, there is also a need to bring a gendered lens to innovation and research and fill the gender-based data gaps.  

How IBM is focussing on coding for the empowerment of the girl students? 
IBM has always been at the forefront and is investing in the empowerment of the students to make them future ready and increase the talent pool. Girl students will have 21st century technical skills inclusive of digital fluency, coding skills and a sense of agency to pursue a career in STEM.  

What can be done to dispel the perception that coding is tough to learn? 
While India has a lot of coders, coding for kids is new and nascent here. Institutional coding has not yet developed for kids. Its inclusion in the curriculum is limited to few private schools or as outside classroom learning. We should give them an opportunity to learn to code remotely also, pick up basic programming skills, logic and systematic reasoning, problem-solving tactics, and enhanced communication tactics. We need to boost their confidence and interest in innovation while giving them the freedom to build projects of their choice.  

What was the motive behind collaborating with HT Code-a-thon?   
If we want India’s talent base to compete in the global economy it becomes very important to up-skill them, keeping up with the changing dynamics of economy and workplace. Skilling and lifelong learning are very important. IBM Collaborated with Hindustan Times to expand the STEM for Girls Program to empower the student community.  

Do you think an initiative like HT Code-a-thon plays an important role in driving digital literacy among millennial students? 
Our goal is big so we have to come up with innovative ideas to inculcate the STEM Mindset in the Students, so Code - a -thon plays a very important role is driving digital literacy among students  

What initiatives has IBM taken to drive digital literacy?  
STEM for Girls is one of IBM's largest programmes primarily aimed at improving education and career pathways for girls who are studying in government schools. The programme includes imparting training in coding, 21st century skills and career development, with an aim to enable girls, empower them and increase their interest in STEM education and careers. In the current situation, when schools are closed, and there is a slowdown in admissions due to pandemic, we are working very closely with the teachers, enhancing their teaching capacity. We have trained around 7000 + teachers in order to build internal capacity of the teams to handle distance-learning requirements. Not only this, we are also preparing child-friendly and activity-based content, which is conducive and propels critical thinking and problem-solving attributes. We are connected with students over WhatsApp groups, motivating them by engaging them with role models, and providing them continuous mentorship.