CHENNAI, India — Chaitra, a 20-year-old third-year electrical engineering student, represents somewhat of a rarity at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras: She is a female and that group represents only 18 percent of the school’s students.
If you ask Chaitra what enabled her to be among the select few, she credits her upbringing by her parents, who are both engineers.
Her father is a mechanical engineer at a private company where he serves as vice president. Her mother is an assistant engineer and a government employee.
“I was lucky because my parents had given me a good education,” Chaitra says. “They had brought me up just like if they had a male child. They respected my ambition.”
Such is not the case for girls in general, according to Chaitra.
“The parents of guys, they invest more in the guy,” Chaitra says. “They get a whole better coaching. The kind of coaching we receive is not the same as the guys take.”
She also says many Indian parents try to get their daughters married off at a young age — at about age 20 — as opposed to having them focus on higher education.
But she also said the entrance exams present more stress than a lot of female students can handle, particularly if they are not prepared in the same way as male students.
“Many girls can’t take all the stress,” Chaitra says. “There are still places in India where girls are not given as much freedom. They don’t get education on par with guys.”
Chaitra says her path toward electrical engineering began with a childhood fascination with mobile devices and nano devices. But it also was encouraged by her mother, who says she should use her education to help farmers, such as her grandparents.
“My grandparents, they are farmers, and my parents faced difficulties when they were studying,” Chaitra says. “My mom always kept telling me I should become a good engineer and help the farmers in terms of something that might improve their yield.”
Professor V. G. Idichandy, an oceanography engineer who currently serves as interim director at IIT Madras, says there is no reservation system in place for female students.
“Government is planning to introduce certain incentives for female students but so far they are still being discussed about,” Idichandy says.
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Could training in implicit bias be helpful at your institution?