Inspiration

We De'coded' Aditi Prasad’s Journey Of Empowering Indian Girls Through STEM & Robotics

Priyasha Khandelwal
We De'coded' Aditi Prasad’s Journey Of Empowering Indian Girls Through STEM & Robotics

It could have been an easy way out for Aditi Prasad. After studying law from prestigious law schools in India and Singapore, a high-paying job was waiting for her. On the contrary, she chose to make a difference for other girls. She went in a completely different direction from her education and founded Robotix in Chennai in the year 2010 to make the subject of Robotics accessible for underprivileged girls and not let them succumb to society’s “decided” profession or future for them.

In a conversation with us, she mentioned, “The thing about educated women is that they want others to go through the same exhilarating experience.” And, this couldn’t be more true for Aditi and her sister, Deepti Rao Suchindran (a Neuroscientist), who together founded Indian Girls Code, inspired by Girls Who Code, to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects and skill-building programmes accessible for underprivileged girls in the year 2013. Aditi and Deepti don't want the education bias to grow on the future generation of girls and therefore, wish to enable them to dream beyond what they are told is their future and thereby bridge the gender gap.

In a decade, Robotix alone has brought a difference to the lives of more than 20,000 students and Indian Girls Who Code has impacted the lives of more than 100 girls.

Read the excerpts from our interview:

1. Let’s begin with the rooted gender bias. According to you, what are the loopholes that still result in the lack of women in the STEM field?  

To start with, there is huge participation from girls in schools. However, as they move towards college, start job hunting/working, or even at mid-level career point, we see 75-80% drop in participation. One of the main reasons is the societal conditioning they receive as they grow. Considering the involvement and hours of work, some drop out because of social commitments like marriage, pregnancy, and family/social expectations.

They hear and we see a lot of reasoning like, “It’s ok for girls to drop out”, “Husbands are there to earn for you,” buzz around them. Even well-educated women are denied a chance by companies because of their gender and reasoned that they need not have a place in any of these careers. 

The light at the end of the tunnel is the constantly evolving world and growing opportunities. Because of technology, women can start their business from home. They can gain knowledge from home and translate that into a full-blown career. We’ve seen several examples in the last decade and hope to see more in the future. 

2. After a decade of work, what changes do you see in the behaviour of girls?

Indian Girls Code began with grade-4 girls in an orphanage called Annai Ashram in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. So, these girls are still in school, still learning, and enhancing their coding, robotics, and STEM skills. STEM and Robotics have become a regular part of their education as they now study them for about 24-28 weeks across the academic year. When we speak to the schools/corporation/educators in their area, we learn that the girls now exude confidence. From being discouraged with having no one believing in them to now dreaming big of buying a house or building a different career, there’s a personality difference that we notice.

We have understood and experienced first-hand that when children are given opportunities and are exposed to certain learning tools, their grasping skill is improved drastically. We’re happy that we have crossed the language barrier of available tools for the girls. Most coding and STEM learning material are available in English and because we teach in the vernacular or local language, the children grasp quicker. Also, in the process, they’re learning English, learning how to use electronic gadgets like a computer and a smartphone, which will prove to be a huge advantage for them in the future. The underprivileged girls are gaining basic knowledge that we all take for granted.

3. How do you think more number of educated girls can abolish gender and wage gap?

It will change the perspective and serve as inspiration, first of all. The thing about educated women, who have had education and opportunity to change their lives, is that they want other women to have it too. As established women, it feels great to mentor young girls. And, when growing-up girls see other women making something out of their careers, it inspires them and makes them believe in themselves.

Second of all, when we’re at the creation process, we can add the female-consumer perspective to the products. Imagine having more women in a decision-making position and building products that actually serve the purpose of women! Currently, it’s mostly men making these decisions for us. I strongly believe that educated women will take society forward.

4. How are you reaching out to the girls during the ongoing pandemic? How has the school closure/lockdown impacted their learning?

We did launch our online sessions during the pandemic but the lack of internet access to all is still a concern. It has been difficult for us to reach them and the lack of logistics doesn’t allow us to go to them in their respective schools, ashrams, and homes. But we’re working on this extensively so that the education doesn’t stop for them. It’s a work in progress.

5. You once mentioned that usually, institutions and NGOs are a bit sceptical to incorporate robotics as a core subject. How have things changed?

Most organizations, earlier and even now, focus on teacher training, material distribution like school bags and stationery, computers as well as building sanitation, which is great because that, in turn, is building a strong ecosystem. It has to be strong in order for us to do our work, too.

With our initiative, we are adding our perspective for betterment and growth. We want to build STEM skills in girls, prepare them for the future, and inculcate the right qualities that can help them shape their career. When we went to corporation schools and other organizations that look after underprivileged kids’ education, STEM and Robotics was very new to them. The last decade has been challenging to explain and make them understand its importance and the kind of change it will bring eventually. But, we did convince a few and now look forward to making these subjects a core part of a lot of schools and educational institutions.  

Introducing STEM and Robotics at the root level for these girls is not just a tick-mark for us. We want them to be introduced to these fields and help them take their interest forward. We want them to build skills, think innovatively, and take these subjects as core to their learning values. We strongly believe that once these skills are inculcated in them, they can pretty much do anything they aim to do in life.

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