Girls and boys in rural India are almost equally aspiring to become doctors or engineers. In fact, the number of girls aspiring to get into these professions is marginally higher than boys, according to the recently released survey data published by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Their roles reverse when it comes to choosing a stream for higher studies. In grade XI and higher, more boys end up studying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses; in contrast, more women choose arts and humanities, the data shows.
Overall, 18.2% of girls and 16.7% of boys aspired to become doctors or engineers. Among boys, 36.3% ended up choosing STEM courses, while only 28% of girls did so. The conclusions are based on ASER’s survey among rural students aged 14-18 in 28 districts conducted last September-November.
Chart 1A | The chart shows the share of boys aged 14-18 who aspired to become doctors or engineers (in %).
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Chart 1B | The chart shows the share of girls aged 14-18 who aspired to become doctors or engineers (in %).
A high share of students in the Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir aspired for these professions, leading all the districts surveyed, among both boys and girls.
As expected, a high share of students hailing from districts in the South, especially Ernakulam in Kerala, Perambalur in Tamil Nadu and Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, aspired to become doctors or engineers. Notably, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh too stood out.
However, in Anantnag, there was a mismatch between what students aspired to and what they ended up studying. For instance, 39.5% of boys and 42.8% of girls aspired to become doctors or engineers but only 16.5% of all students ended up choosing STEM courses in grade XI or higher. Such a stark contrast was not recorded in any other district.
In fact, in the southern districts and Varanasi, the share of students who enrolled for STEM courses was much higher than those who aspired to enter such professions. In Ernakulam, Perambalur and Srikakulam, more than 60% of students ended up choosing STEM courses. In Varanasi, 26.7% of girls and 27.1% of boys aspired to enter these professions, and more than 50% of all students ended up choosing STEM courses. Hathras in U.P. also stood out with 66% of students enrolling in STEM courses though much fewer students aspired to enter related professions to start with.
Chart 2 | The chart shows the stream chosen by students in grade XI or higher, across districts (in %).
Relatively fewer students aspired to become doctors or engineers in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara, West Bengal’s Cooch Behar, and Odisha’s Sambalpur. This reflected in their choice of streams in higher education with 80% or more students choosing arts or humanities courses. When all districts are considered, more girls than boys opted for arts or humanities courses as shown in Table 3.
Table 3 | The table shows the stream chosen by boys and girls in Grade XI or higher (in %).
How many students who chose STEM courses in XI and XII ended up switching to arts and humanities during undergraduation, makes for an interesting reading. While in XI and XII, 33% or more students had chosen STEM streams, by the time they joined college, this share was reduced to just 20% as shown in Table 4. Such a stark shift might be due to a lack of funds owing to much costlier STEM courses; intense competition to enter such courses could also have played a role.
Table 4 | The table shows the grade-wise stream chosen by students (in%).
Moreover, students who are enrolled in STEM courses outperform arts and humanities students when it comes to reading and math skills. This could be due to the preparations for competitive exams needed to enter colleges that offer better STEM courses.
Source: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2023 ‘Beyond Basics’
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