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Education, An Enabler For Women Economic Empowerment: ThinkBig 2017 Conference

“Access to high-quality education is a problem, getting employable graduates is a problem. Getting skills built for the future is a big challenge," Raghav Gupta, India Country Director, Coursera

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During a session at the ThinkBig 2017 Conference organized by Thinkthrough Consulting and WEConnect International at Kingdom of Dreams, Gurugram, the role of education as an enabler for women economic empowerment was discussed, in a WEXplore Panel Discussion with eminent panellists, and Dr. Gitanjali Chaturvedi, Senior Social Development Specialist, World Bank, as the moderator of the session.

Chaturvedi said, “The only gender gap we have closed in the area of primary school enrolment. We still see a big drop-out rate when it comes to women in the workforce”, opening up the panel for discussion on education as an enabler for female economic empowerment. Dr. Mona Mathur, Founder & CEO, Million Sparks Foundation, said, “Classrooms have changed, there is a need for 21st-century skills to be taught. In the classroom, the teacher is still not aware of what the 21st-century skills are”, then posing the question, “Are the teachers preparing the students to be ready for unlearning and learning?” Mathur also added, “Many governments have started a lot of online education for teachers, through platforms like ours”.

“We need to change the mind-sets of people, how we treat the first-born female. In the workforce, 49% are women, but only contribute 29% and the ones who are entrepreneurs are only 17% of that. There has to be a mindset change when training teachers who are women. We as leaders need to empower women into believing in themselves, they can be social entrepreneurs and can get into digitization”, said Ritu Jhingon, Head- CSR & Head- Project Nand Ghar, Vedanta Group. Jhingon also went on to add, “The mindset change and training has to start early on. We need to have more support systems. When women are secure and equipped enough in the mindset, we can make a change. We must have an equal system that we can change. We need to change the ecosystem.”

Shveta Raina, Founder, Talerang and Talerang Express said, “What I have seen in India is that we are early adopters to online education, though we are still struggling to get connectivity.” She also added, “I think there are 3 real gaps, which women need to bridge. Women need to know themselves, their strengths and competencies. They need to prepare themselves really hard in that skill. Women need to work towards problem-solving, communication and active skill competencies. Women can’t shy away from careers like coding or digital. The last thing is that women need to prove themselves. My personal vision is to reach to 20 million women, and we have reached 2 million which is 10% so we still have a long way to bridge that gap.”

Speaking about the role online platforms like Coursera can play in becoming an enabler for women economic empowerment, Raghav Gupta, India Country Director, Coursera, said, “Access to high-quality education is a problem, getting employable graduates is a problem. Getting skills built for the future is a big challenge. We’ve seen really strong traction for a service like Coursera in India, out of which 25% are women. And they take courses on running and managing businesses, health and hygiene and even fun courses like the history of rock music.” He also added, “My sense is that given the traction we see, is that it may not be a replacement to on-campus education, but is definitely an add-on for nurturing knowledge and skills”

Smitha Nair, Head, Public Policy and External Affairs (West), Diageo India, said, “Skilling is a pre-requisite for employment. Soft skills provide empowerment for women to create better linkages. What is needed is to teach the women better about how to run their businesses better, how to financially manage their business and so on.” Nair also added, “What we have on-ground is a lot of noise and campaigning for women, but the real action to make change is missing. We need to bridge that gap between noise and campaigning and actual work.”

“Primary enrolment issue is solved, access is solved, but 61% of girls drop out in secondary school. Last year, when we look at the gender ratio of how subjects are chosen, we see that only in the Arts are girls in the higher proportion.  Female participation in the workforce is 21%”, said Ragini Bajaj Chaudhary, India CEO, GrayMatters Capital, adding that, “Apart from access, quality of education is very important. There is a problem that all employers say that the people they have employed are not employable”. Vanita Sehgal, Principal, Delhi Public School, said, “All the teacher counselling comes to nothing till we change the examination system. Teachers are getting trained, they are all computer literate. But are training them for entrepreneurship? We can’t because the examination system is so stringent.  In addition to the examination system which is stringent, a few questions based on your analytical skills is not the answer. When teachers are getting trained, the training is totally impractical. But there is definitely constant training going on at all times” Sehgal concluded by saying, “What girls need is a sense of self-pride, self-confidence. I think as women we need to strengthen our sisters.”


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