Building an empowered, fearless, opinionated and future-ready next generation requires holistic development through sufficient opportunities for exploration and guidance from adults who are equipped and well-informed. While teachers play a vital role in nurturing a learning mindset among students, an equally enthusiastic home environment is essential for sustained growth. Research shows that parents who are uninvolved and uniformed about their child’s education are less confident in supporting their child’s learnings, whereas encouraging and well-aware parents support their children in meeting the challenges and fascination of STEM (National School Boards Association, 2019.*
Partnering for the cause
It is imperative that parents and caregivers are an important stakeholder for any intervention for improving participation and interest of girls in STEM. Since 2004, American India Foundation’s award-winning flagship education program, Digital Equalizer, has been working towards bringing equity in Digital Education and STEM Learning. DE has partnered with multiple industry and government partners to achieve its vision of preparing every child, especially girls, for a future-ready career. IBM’s STEM for Girls India and Mastercard Girls4Tech are two of the key partners.
Over the past three years, Digital Equalizer, in partnership with IBM’s STEM for Girls India has empowered 1,00,858 young girls across Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan with digital fluency, coding, 21st-century skills, life skills, computational thinking, career guidance, and other important skills essential for a career in STEM fields. Since the beginning, parent interactions have been an important approach for the program. Regular communication between teachers and parents through one-on-one sessions, group interactions, IVRS messages, etc., have been essential.
DE with the support of Mastercard is empowering and inspiring young girls from marginalized communities, transacting the G4Tech curriculum, and training the teachers. The goal is to empower and secure the future of young girls, by inspiring them to develop technology skills and pursue a career in STEM. The project is reaching over 100,000 students across multiple states in India.
Parents – The mindset Shift
Students need to be able to identify and apply STEM in their daily lives and become confident individuals who are not afraid to question the norms, broaden their horizons of career aspirations, and evolve with circumstances that life throws at them. Parents play an important role in achieving this.
“STEM has a supply side and demand side, and both need to be addressed to change behaviours. On the demand side we have students, parents and teachers who need to be cognizant of STEM as a viable career choice for girls. In India, parents/caregivers are the primary decision maker for an adolescent girl’s education and future. To give agency to the girls, it becomes increasingly important to work with parents and shift their mindset. This is the role AIF is poised to play well.” — Mathew Joseph, Country Director, AIF
While it is clear that involving parents is important for building a STEM ecosystem, the journey is not free of challenges. Age-old mindsets are difficult to shake up, leading to doubts and concerns about their daughters’ abilities. However, through visible progress, perceptions slowly began changing.
Angrez Singh, Sawaipur, Punjab, father of Navpreet Kaur and a tailor by profession, is the only bread earner in a family of 4. Initially he was skeptical of Navpreet taking up coding and questioned her choices even though she had mentioned her interest. Through SCRATCH sessions, and the HT Code-a-thon, Navpreet was able to freely explore and win at the competition. This is when her parents’ opinion about her career choices changed.
“We now wish that she continues to study, grow, and land a respectable job in the future. We have seen major changes in Navpreet. Earlier, she wasn’t confident about the courses she studied, but now when the neighbours, other parents or children around the village ask her about her learnings, she is able to confidently answer,” says Angrez Singh.
Kulwant Kaur, mother of Navpreet gets emotional as she shares her daughter’s journey, “I didn’t have many expectations from my daughter’s interests or abilities in coding before the program. However, when she won awards, our perception completely changed. We have full faith in our daughter now. I am certain that she will be independent and will achieve everything she has dreamt of. Earlier I didn’t know anything about STEM, but now I am aware of not just STEM, but also about computers and the importance of confidence and passion which can truly change our lives. I want more girls like Navpreet to be involved in such programs and build a future of their own.”
Empowered Students catalyzing transformation
Empowered students can initiate change themselves by not only proving their capabilities, but also being teachers for their parents and improving the quality of life for the whole family. In turn, an encouraging family supports the child’s learnings and allows them to apply their education in daily life.
Muskan Jaiswal is an aspiring scientist from Alwar, Rajasthan. Her mother proudly talks of her daughter, “I am incredibly happy that Muskan goes to school regularly now. Before she started participating in this program, there wasn’t much progress in the classes, but now I can see a stark difference in Muskan as she is now thinking about her future and her interests. She creates her own models and projects at home, uses the internet to learn new things by herself, and teaches us new things every day. She also registered the whole family online for the COVID-19 vaccine. I hope she continues learning new things from the program and builds a name for herself. I will always support her aspirations to the best of my abilities for whatever she dreams of for her future.”
Students teaching their families and each other is a successful result of the hard work of teachers at school. However, when this creates a domino effect building an ecosystem of parents who teach each other, the true magic of Digital Equalizer’s intent of building a self-sustaining STEM ecosystem is manifested.
Sukhjinder Singh, father of Simarjot Kaur, belongs to Krishna Nagar, Tarn Taran, Amritsar. His daughter is a student at Government Senior Secondary School, M S Road, Amritsar. A secondary level school graduate, and a driver by profession, Sukhjinder Singh always wanted to pursue his higher studies. However, due to personal reasons, he could not pursue his dreams and now wants his daughters to be able to complete their higher education.
At a time when government schools are struggling with support from parents, Sukhjinder Singh shows the way through active participation in his daughters’ studies and guides other parents in doing the same. Apart from helping his daughters with academics, he shows great interest in encouraging her to build STEM-based projects.. He also helps the neighbourhood kids in their projects and encourages their parents to be supportive as well.
Parents involvement is must for a holistic ecosystem change
Parents have also benefited from regular interactions with teachers, which has helped build trust, agency, and a sense of involvement. Shahista Parveen, School facilitator, AIF, Haryana, says, “Parents are now able to discuss their doubts, concerns, and observations freely with the teachers. This has been helping them to be more involved with their child’s education, ensuring a supportive environment for students at home.” From Rajasthan, School facilitator, Priyanka Kumari says, “During the community visits in Bagru among the Sanganeri community, it was assumed that children would take up the age-old family traditions, but now we can actively see that parents are more comfortable with their children exploring other fields and they have a sense of trust that through the mentorship their children are getting, their daughters will be able to find their own career paths.”
When involved actively, parents can be a huge support system for providing students a safe environment to adopt STEM, make mistakes, and communicate their concerns. Effective communication not only helps one understand the other, but also teaches one to deal with situations better. By working with their children, parent mindset shifts can be a ‘feed two birds with one scone’ situation, where multiple levels of society can experience this shifting STEM mindset.