India contributes 31.7 per cent of the total STEM graduates in the world, and has one of the world’s largest STEM job markets. The country is also the third largest unicorn hub and is steadily scaling the Global Innovation Index. These gratifying numbers are a testament to the growing prowess that India has in the scientific community, creating a solid position for itself in STEM globally.

As innovation in the field of education goes through a radical change with more Indians becoming innovators rather than consumers, there is a massive scope for disruption by STEM education in the K-12 segment. Today, the number of STEM jobs are outstripping the number of STEM graduates in the country with 2020 witnessing a 44 per cent increase in STEM job postings.

According to the National Science Foundation, it is estimated that 80 per cent of the jobs created in the next decade will require some form of math and science skills, and India’s young workforce must be adept for this eventuality. However, the luxury of access is limited to a few. The physical inequities in education often outweigh the digital ones, allowing a small number of people access to quality STEM education.

It is only through leveraging technology and tech-driven learning that we can take significant strides in democratising these critical STEM skills.

The leaky STEM pipeline

While there is enough and more evidence to suggest that students equipped with strong STEM skills have a wider range of opportunities, resources and equipment for STEM learning are expensive, and difficult to source, especially in non-urban areas.

As a result, there is just one piece of equipment in the laboratory and all the students need to form groups to use the equipment. This takes away from the joys of personalised learning and deters students from actively participating in these classes. Fear-driven, exam-focussed learning can often discourage students, and limit their curiosity and scientific potential, focussing only on the academic syllabus.

The biggest step towards democratising STEM would be the combined effort of all stakeholders — public and private — in the smooth transition to digital learning, where each and every student will be able to enjoy the experience of personalised lab equipment in a virtual setting. Where they will have the freedom to experiment with various concepts and ideas and all this will only be an internet connection away.

As the world enters a new phase of hybrid working and learning, the blending of physical and digital learning will be more critical than ever. By leveraging technologies such as computer vision and AI, we are able to develop learning systems that offer students a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning formats, experiences and true ‘phygital’ education. It’s applications in STEM education are unlimited as is the ability to improve learning outcomes.

This could revolutionise the STEM education system in India and create experiences that are critically important for sparking interest in science education, especially for students in under-resourced, underserved areas. Hands-on learning allows students to see and understand what is happening in front of them and enables them to comprehend critical science concepts and make sense of the world by drawing on their personal experiences and own funds of knowledge.

The way forward

Technology is an impending force that continues to revolutionise the workforce of the future, and STEM education and skilling is a crucial cog in this wheel, furthering the radical advancement in new knowledge discoveries.

As India makes significant strides in science and technology globally, a holistic and multidisciplinary approach is critical in STEM education. The true democratisation of STEM education will not only empower learners to shape the workforce of tomorrow but also lead to unseen advancements in India’s STEM education sector.

The writer is Chief Strategy Officer, BYJU’S