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India needs more women innovators to motivate young girls to pursue STEM: Pooja Goyal

While there is much to be celebrated about the increased awareness among parents and teachers for STEM, there is still a gap in providing the right environment and tools to aid young innovators, says Avishkaar co-founder Pooja Goyal.

Pooja Goyal, COO & Co-Founder, Avishkaar, in interaction with Tech Observer’s Nisha Kumari, speaks on a range of issues, including the role of next-generation technology, ways to address the low participation of girls in the STEM field and expansion plans for her startup.

She said: “While there is much to be celebrated about the increased awareness among parents and teachers for the need to teach next-generation technologies at a younger age, there is still a gap in providing the right environment and tools to aid young innovators.”

Excerpts Excerpts.

What is your assessment of next-generation technologies introduced to young kids across India? How can we make it an integral part of their curriculum?

While there is much to be celebrated about the increased awareness among parents and teachers for the need to teach next-generation technologies at a younger age, there is still a gap in providing the right environment and tools to aid young innovators. Lately, India has been taking steps towards inculcating a more practical and hands-on learning approach in schools. The NEP announced in 2020 emphasised the need to shift focus from examination and rote learning to conceptual clarity, critical thinking, problem-solving, innovation and creativity in the Indian education system. In order for students to discover what they want to do, it is imperative to nurture innovation and creativity.

Our job as parents and educators is to help our children build their innovative muscles from a young age. We must create a safe space for them to take risks and help them build communities with fellow innovators to develop innovative solutions. I also believe that schools should teach skills such as coding, robotics, AI, and IoT at a young age to gauge which students are interested in these fields and encourage them to enhance their skills. Teachers must build an active and engaged community of children who love to build and innovate to keep their interests going.

When it comes to girls, their participation in STEM is meagre. In your views, what are the main reasons behind the underrepresentation of women?

Gender disparity, especially in STEM, is a global concern. Our internal survey found that 95% of children, including girls, recall male role models as inspiration in STEM fields. This clearly shows an urgent need to increase exposure to women role models in the STEM industry. Young girls don’t have a strong female role model to look up to. Hence we must build a community of women innovators who encourage children at a young age to pursue their passion in STEM.

Another one of the major reasons for low participation is the gender pay gap. Despite exemplary research and performance, women in STEM are known to be paid less for their research compared to men, hence not progressing as much in their careers. It is also said that women in this field publish fewer research papers across the globe.

Niti Aayog under Atal Innovation Mission has pushed hands-on learning on next-gen tech for students. How has been your experience, and how this could be further expanded?

We have been closely associated with this mission. In 2017, Avishkaar started setting up Atal Tinkering Labs envisioned by NITI Aayog. We have set up over 1000 of these labs across the country and are supporting more than 1500 schools and 100,000 children across the globe in their journey to be future-ready.

How is Avishkaar doing in terms of business growth, and what are your plans for expansion?

We have recently raised our pre-series A funding from Auxano, Mumbai Angels, Alok Mittal, angel investor & Co-founder and CEO, Indifi Technologies, and Varun Aggarwal, Co-founder, Aspiring Minds. We plan to utilise the funding towards product development and further expansion of our portfolio in addition to hiring talent. Keeping in mind our mission to build an army of young innovators globally, the company will invest in marketing. India will continue to be a focus market this year with enough scope to grow in Tier-I and Tier-II cities while catering to inbound queries from international institutions.

We have previously raised Rs 5 crore in seed investment from Auxano in February 2018 to expand our presence across the country in schools and launch a new line of products. Ever since we have quadrupled our presence and revenues. With a change in the education system post-COVID, Avishkaar adapted to the situation and focused on a D2C model through its existing school network and e-commerce channels. This quick shift accelerated the brand’s growth five times more than in the last year.

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