Efforts to have more women in STEM subjects is paying off

Around this time of the year, six years ago, Rabina Shrestha obtained her HSEB (Higher Secondary Examination Board) results, now called NEB (National Examination Board). She was in a dilemma as to which stream to choose for her Bachelor’s degree since her choice would determine her future course of action.

Shrestha decided to do a BSc in Computer Engineering from Kathmandu University (KU) School of Science in Dhulikhel. She was among the ten female students in a class of 55 that academic year.

“Female students taking additional mathematics courses in grades 11-12 were pretty limited. When I joined Bachelors in Computer Science at KU, the number of female students was disappointingly low,” said 25-year-old Shrestha.

Women pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have always been an anomaly. Their preference for STEM education has also been nominal. This fact is rooted in how society views women and STEM subjects, with most terming the STEM field as a man’s domain. But the efforts to increase women’s participation in STEM by educational institutions have been evident in recent years.

Shrestha recollects experiencing social bias during her four-year-long degree course. “I still remember how one of my teachers said women were amateurish in coding. I took that message as his perception of women in coding. It made me question my choice and doubt my abilities.”

However, women have been breaking the glass ceiling by pursuing education in STEM.

“In the last academic year, we had a total of 23 women enrolled in Information Technology. But this year, the number has increased to 36,” said Amar Deep Mandal, head of marketing of The British College. “We expect the number to increase further.”

Bachelor’s degrees in STEM subjects are usually three to four years long, depending on their national and international university affiliations. And most of them also provide job placements.

The British College providing graduates with a paid job placement soon after completing the degree course has also been a draw for most female students, says Mandal.

Pankaj Jalan, chairman of Lord Buddha Education Foundation (LBEF), which is one of the first IT colleges in Nepal, reckons the same, considering the statistics over the past two decades. “Women taking technology-related degrees make up nearly 40 percent of the class now. Earlier, there would hardly be three to five women in a classroom,” said Jalan.

But this increase in number isn’t mere luck. A lot of effort and strategy has been put into eradicating the predominant social biases that diminish women’s interest in this field.

“For the last four years, our college, in collaboration with the Federation of Computer Associations Nepal, has been providing full scholarships to female students from each province. So there are such opportunities available for female students interested in STEM,” said Jalan.

There are also increasing job opportunities that specifically ask for women, and these jobs pay pretty well, says Shrestha, with her experience searching for a job after graduation.

Shrestha, who once doubted her skills in coding, now works as a software developer at Cedar Gate Technologies. “Just because we don’t see enough women in STEM doesn’t mean the subject isn’t for you. Women must not let social biases hinder their career growth.”

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