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Department of Science and Technology to hold camps at district level to coach 50,000 senior secondary girls for IIT JEE, as well as convince parents.

By the 75th year of Indian independence, one-third of students across Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) should be women.

That’s the aim for the Narendra Modi government moving forward, in its mission to empower the country’s female population and rectify the gender imbalance across top science and engineering institutes.

The Department of Science & Technology (DST) has begun moving on the ambitious plan to train over 50,000 girls for two years in science and engineering, so that they can make a mark in this sector, and also crack the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) – arguably the toughest undergraduate level entrance examination.

Course-correction has just begun

Women make up just about 8 per cent of the student population across the 23 IITs, and the writing is on the wall – even as more women are taking up higher education, the IITs and engineering institutes in general are largely out of bounds for them, for a variety of reasons.

Course-correction moves have only just begun, with the IIT Joint Admission Board recently announcing that the premier engineering institutes will admit over 1,400 women next year onwards. The IITs typically offer about 10,000 engineering seats per year.

The DST will take this mission a step further. Since parents are usually averse to sending their daughters to distant coaching hubs, the DST has taken it upon itself to go to the girls instead – it will organise two-year-long science camps at the district level.

DST secretary Prof. Ashutosh Sharma confirmed to ThePrint that a plan to bring in more women to the IITs is set to unroll, starting with a pilot project in 12 districts this year.

“There are less than 10 per cent women in IITs and we are determined to change that. We want to ensure that four years from now, one-third of the IITs’ student population comprises of women. We are starting our pilot project in 12 districts this year, and we will scale it across the country next year to achieve this. The idea is to select 50,000 Class 10 pass-outs from across school boards, based on a certain percentile. Then we will provide them the best academic environment and facilitatory set-up for the next two years to train them,” Sharma told ThePrint.

He said the camps would be held at existing IITs, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, university campuses, or wherever good research and development facilities were available, complete with motivated faculty, volunteers and scientists, and a safe environment for girl students.

“The classes will be held every evening, through Class 11 and 12. We will also offer a modest scholarship of Rs 5,000 or so to cover commuting expenses for selected candidates. The science camp will not just be about teaching science to the girls, but also to bring them face to face with women scientists, to inspire, motivate and familiarise them with the lives of scientists and working women. We will also hold interactive sessions with the students’ parents, as they are key to this whole mission,” Sharma added.

Cognisant of the reservations several parents have about sending their daughters to distant institutes even after they qualify in exams like the JEE, the DST is also working on a plan with the IITs to allow locational advantage to girl students, and give them the choice to seek admission in an institute that may be nearer home.

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