The mystery of the missing girls in IIT

Nearly 30% of engineers who graduate from India every year are women. So, why do their numbers plummet when it comes to the prestigious IITs?

Among the earnest faces, you’d be hard pressed to spot the girls. The snapshots in the advertisements by coaching classes, of students who recently cleared the advanced Joint Entrance Exams (JEE) to get into the country’s most prestigious engineering institutes, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), are nearly all male.

Of the 38,705 candidates, who have qualified for admission into the 23 IITs, 5,356 (13.8%) are girls. Shabnam Sahay, the girls’ topper has an overall rank of 10. In 2018, only 23 girls made it to the top 500, up from 14 the previous year.

Girls are keen on engineering. Of the 15 lakh engineers who graduate every year from 3,000 institutes in the country, 30% are girls. So why do their numbers fall when it comes to the IITs?

Blame social attitudes, says Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, Department of Science and Technology. Boys, encouraged by parents, will single-mindedly pursue their goal of getting into the IITs. The girls have potential but aren’t similarly encouraged. At IIT open houses and science fairs designed to get more female students to enrol, one of the big challenges is addressing the parents’ concerns: Will my daughter be safe? How will she manage so far away from home? Will the demands of the course affect her health?

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