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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gender Bias (Women in IITs)

Yesterday, I made a post on my facebook page. This was a link to the article which gave information on how many women were admitted to different IITs last year. The numbers are abysmally low, less than 10 percent. And I suggested that this indicates that there is something wrong with the admission process of IITs.

Questions started coming in.

Could it be that women are not interested in engineering. How many women gave JEE.
I pointed out that 25% women gave JEE while only 10% succeeded. I also pointed out that in colleges which take admission through other routes, the percentage of women is significantly higher. I also pointed out that BITS Pilani saw a significant drop in women admission when it moved from admissions based on 12th class marks to admission based on an entrance test. All this does not seem to indicate that women are not interested in engineering.

May be women don't have merit. How do I know that women deserve to be in IITs in larger numbers.
Well, if we look at board performance across pretty much any board, in the top ranks, women perform better than men. You would find more than 50 women in the top 100, while the percentage of women giving the exam is significantly less than 50 percent. And the same is true not just overall, but specifically in science stream, where students have taken Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, the same subjects that JEE tests on.

But aren't 12th class board exams testing something different than JEE. And may be women are not inherently good at what JEE tests.
Let us assume that they are testing different things. Let us also assume that there is something genetic about women not doing well in JEE. Should not then one ask what is more important for IIT education. I pointed out that in 2011, when there were lots of debate on changing IIT admission process and including 12th class performance in some way, it was pointed out that there have been three studies done in three different IITs in terms of what is a better predictor of success in IITs - 12th class marks, or JEE performance, and all three studies said that the correlation between 12th class marks and IIT performance is higher than correlation between JEE performance and IIT performance. While I consider all three studies as too small a sample size, and not scientifically rigorous, they do raise a doubt on whether JEE Advanced (which is causing only 10% women getting admitted) is bringing in the best talent to IITs. And since this is serious enough matter, we should at least do more research into it, and do a bigger, more rigorous study.

(By the way, I would still not support incorporating 12th class marks in the admission process, since the foul play in boards will increase, and many other reasons which I had articulated at that time.)

Do you have any hypothesis that could perhaps be tested by a research team.
Yes, I do. I believe that today coaching has become absolutely necessary for good performance in JEE. And most families are reluctant to send their girl child for coaching, particularly out of town places like Kota. And that is the reason for their poor performance in JEE.

Should IITs be bothered about societal biases. Is it not good enough that the same question paper is given to all candidates, no cheating is allowed, and an objective merit list is prepared.
If IITs are interested in attracting the best talent, they should be bothered about societal biases and any other limitations that their admission process may face. They need to think whether the current admission process gets them the best students or is there any other way to get even better students.

Conclusion: My own conclusion is that less than 10% women in the incoming class is far too less and has not been adequately explained by any study so far. There is enough reason to suspect that certain societal biases could be limiting chances of women in the current admission process of IITs. And hence, IITs must share all their admission related data for research or conduct research themselves to find out whether there is a problem or not, and if there is no problem why women are less than 10% in IITs.

Interestingly, the responses on my facebook post yesterday (and indeed, I have raised this issue earlier a few times as well, and the responses have been exactly on the similar lines) were essentially saying that there is no reason to suspect anything and there is no reason to do any research. Note that I am not recommending any reservation, or affirmative action, or any reduction of seats for men as of now. I am only asking for more research to be done. And a majority of male respondents don't even support research to be done into this issue.

I checked the profile of these men. Most are students/alumni of IITs.

My own take is that most of those respondents have following problems with the idea of doing research in to this issue. One, they realize that a research is likely to show that indeed there is a bias against women. And, more generally, JEE rank is not the best indicator of merit. And most of IIT alumni immediately fear that this may mean that they themselves perhaps did not deserve to be in an IIT. So they would oppose any research or any major change in the admission process. Two, the male elite does not want to give up any of their territory without a fight. The issue is not of fairness, but why give up our entrenched benefits.

And we always blame the poor and uneducated for gender bias.

EDITED: Nov 5, 2015
After I published this, I was sent the following link about women not being represented fairly in business schools also.

Yo Chanda Kochhar, if there aren't enough women in B-schools it isn't because they can't do the hard stuff


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Commenting purely in support of your facebook statement that '[for discussion] a blog is a better medium than facebook' -- sadly it seems blogging is dead and facebook is it!

I agree with everything you say. There are societal reasons why girls don't do well in JEE but do well in the CBSE exams. Plus the JEE is a very imperfect predictor of anyone's future career performance. Plus most IIT graduates end up in careers quite unrelated to their training (how many civil engineering or mechanical engineering graduates actually become civil or mechanical engineers, respectively?) So the JEE is really quite irrelevant to real-world performance of graduates. To the extent that IIT graduates do well, the "chaap" is a large factor.

Harsh Paliwal said...

Great that you have touched this topic!
However, I do not quite understand the way dots are joined towards the end. Since IIT students and alumni would primarily comprise participating audience on your posts, getting views of nonIITians was not possible, hence concluding that ' IITians do not wish to have a research on the topic' is not justified.
Secondly, concluding that realising JEE rank is not the best indicator of merit (which it certainly is not) would cause some sort of complex to IIT alumni seems a bit too disjoint an argument. Don't know why, but this seems to paint a very egoistic and boastful picture of IIT alumni. Again, those are your views, and I completely respect them. Anyway, such views should anyway not stop us from conducting such surveys and coming to better conclusion.

BasicallyIntricate said...

The first, clear cut bias is involved in the way a girl child is treated within a family. Its an inherent tendency of the parents to expect something great from the boy child, but not so from girl child. Boy child's success directly impacts their retirement life. For a girl child, fashion designing, arts and finance are the 'safe' fields. That is how the perspective of typical middle class family is. It enormously skews the participant ratio for IITs, with majority of girls not being inspired enough to go for a 'tough' exam as JEE. Ideally this factor should normalize with time.

Its my personal opinion and a hyperbole as well that at some level the 'competitiveness' of JEE is also the reason for gender bias. But not in a way that is apparent. JEE is tough exam and requires the participants to grill through concepts and questions in a much deeper way. The reluctance of girls to take that extra step (maybe an extra year) along with a common prejudice maintained that boys are good at maths (& science, again by the inherent bias we have in society) could be another factor.

Swagatika said...

I can share my bit of personal experience with you. Hope it can provide you some idea on a direction in which research should be done.

In addition to doing research in coaching centers, what if we try to analyse why girls do better in Board exam?

I feel, for JEE, networking, getting the right resources and materials, are more important. That's where girls remain behind in the competition. On the other hand, in order to good in Board exam, doing more practice with the given textbook material, and dedicating higher number of study hours, plays a more important role. These criteria does not force someone to go out of her comfortable environment (the one that conforms to our societal bias).

What if we look into the education standards in schools and colleges for class 11th and 12th? What kind of environment they provide? Do they encourage learning? Do they encourage networking? Do the faculty give the students with the right resources for JEE? Or do they just replicate textbooks on blackboard? I feel there is a lot of flaw in education of class 11 and class 12. If more research is done in that direction, we may discover more issues. Fixing those issues may provide an alternate for lack of access to good coaching institutes. Since, colleges/schools are accessible to all students, and parents do not have any concern over that, finding the limitations in education in colleges or schools, and addressing them will create a more positive environment for JEE preparation.


PK said...

These are complex issues and more research is indeed required. My anecdotal experience is summarised here -- the numbers I give are from memory as I do not have all the stats available now.

Although Australia/NZ is different from India the number of women in CS/IT was also around 10-15%. In Aus/NZ there is no real competition for places into CS/IT and we typically accept 80% of the applicants for a UG degree and around 70% applicants for a course work Masters degree. There are no entrance exams and we typically use the year 12 marks for admission.

If we looked at the application pool there were only about 20-25% of female applicants and the number we made offers to would have been closer to 90% for them. But many of them would decline the offer. This resulted in having only 10-15% females in any cohort.

We attempted to get the school counselors to encourage more women to do a CS/IT degree but that was not successful. We felt that school counselors encouraged the women to do more in Biological/Medical space than in the Maths/Physics/CS space.

Just my brass razoo worth.

Nitesh Bhandari said...

In 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to be awarded a Fields Medal[1]. 15 women have got Nobel prize in sciences (PCB), specifically 3 in Chem, 2 in Physics, out of 835 distinct individuals.[2][3]

JEE Advanced is no where close to Nobel prize but for a 16 year old in India, it is more than that :). I teach coaching in Delhi and my students source mostly from Delhi and Bihar. Weekend batches are predominantly Delhi kids. There are girls, but around 10%. That is true for Bihar kids as well. Girls do the pilgrimage, but 10% strength.

JEE toppers over the years, not more than 5% girls (Top 200 ranks). This is a different stat compared to all JEE ranks as this chunk is coming from a very different socio-economic setup and has a very different performance in JEE.

I have tried giving some examples from different socio-economic setups... I do think the 10% IIT Girls student is a problem and I think the only quick solution is around 30% reservation for them. I don't think the exam should be changed, if only made harder every year. Subjective would help IITs.

Will girls ever perform better than boys in JEE? I doubt that. With the little that I know about human biology, genetics and competence, I would any day bet on boys competing in exams like JEE. I would bet on girls on exams like boards. I would bet on both on exams like life. That is till genetics doesn't do us apart and that will be a shame, so don't do it Nature or genetic scientists.

Women are different but not less [paraphrased from Temple Grandin]. They are much more in many more. Why bother about advanced PCM?

Gender is a complex issue and there is too much diversity than generally thought to be.


Manish Kumar said...

Expecting IIT alums to stand for equality, ethics is asking too much. Nobody take HSS courses there seriously, inspite of lots of changes in people view, many still continued with the biases they came with, specially women. One simple check is standing against dowry, I did not find any of my batchmates strongly opposing it.

S.Meera said...

I want to add my experiment and the success. I am an woman engineer and have 2 daughters. 2 years back, the same analysis haunted me and right from higher secondary school, did experiments with my daughters in terms of focus. I had this feeling that girls lose out on focus during 8th grade for various reasons (socio, hormones, setting wrong priorities, peer pressure, home & school environment to a large extent). Today, I am proud to say that my 2nd daughter challenged me and got into IITM. Following were the experiments
1. Right from 8th std, her exposure to problem analysis was what we (parents) paid attention. We didn't bother about academics exams or results, we did allow her to study what interested her and let her play till 10th std.
2. I, particularly challenged her in 11th stating that her thinking, analysis were different from boys. She took up this challenge and focused on getting into JEE entrance.
3. She underwent lot of stress at school because teachers have directly & boldly made statements that it is difficult to get through entrance exams for girls.
Finally, she took CBSE as 2nd priority, cut classes since she felt it was demotivating and took coaching class seriously and studied on her own. Coaching class was not biased at all. Ofcourse, as parents we supported her. But as a mother (woman :-)) I did feel nervous about her prioritization of CBSE board exams. But, she proved me wrong and did extremely well in the entrance.
So, hope the above long story helps us to understand that the gender bias is close to the environment that the student lives in rather than the entrance exams or board exams.

L said...

Maths is a subject where teachers are crucial- it has nothing to do with gender. My son is math-phobic, my daughter a math-wiz... both because of bad/good math teachers, particularly in middle school.
The bit about coaching is right- even locally, most coaching classes either end at night or start before dawn and a daughter cannot be sent on her own to attend them - that is a societal bias I may deplore, but would definitely follow.
The day we figure out a truly un-coachable exam the gender bias will reduce if not go away.
The statistics for the HSEE by IITM may show a better gender spread, which could be used as an argument for the lack of STEM skills in females, but I think it is due to the fact that it can be cracked even without coaching if you have been well-educated, whereas the JEE can be cracked only with coaching and you don't need to be particularly well educated. I have a nephew who was in IITM and told me quite proudly he had never stepped into its library.

iitmsriram said...

The "published" data which started this thread is limited to UG admissions through JEE. At this level, there is a stark difference between residential and non-residential institutions, that appears to be the largest factor. Urban non-residential institutions have close to 50 - 50 gender mix at least in Tamil Nadu. It is mostly in residential institutions and away from urban areas (meaning, more residential students) where the ratio gets skewed, with some exceptions. The picture is quite different at the PG level. At IITM, at MS / PhD level, the female enrolment fraction is about 30%. Some branches and programs have female enrolment over 50% (Civil Engineering, for example. IITM MA program has well over 50% female). There is lot of data available but making sense of it may not be easy.

Ordinary Person said...

I'm guessing that most of the people who complain, do so because India is a country of bans and reservations. There is a fear that once government/authorities identify that this as a genuine problem, the only solution they will come up with is to apply reservation for women in admissions. Several state medical entrance exams used to have reservation for women when I was a student - not sure what is the current status.

I completely agree that if JEE is doing injustice to 50% of our population, then it's an imperfect system. From my personal experience as an alumnus, I can say that JEE performance has no correlation with a person's success in their future career or their interest in engineering.

I'm curious what does the data look like for GATE etc.

S said...

I have heard anecdotally that the gender ratio is much more equitable in medical colleges (with the notable exception of AIIMS). Would not a good preliminary step be to identify what the medical colleges are doing different? It should also be notes that in terms of the ratio of places available to the number of applicants, AIPMT is far more competitive than the JEE (or at least it used to be until a few years ago).

S said...

Another system to be studied should be the Iranian system, which despite being a supposedly "gender-biased" society, produces a very high number of women mathematicians and engineers.

S said...

It is especially painful to see some people of your Facebook profile touting evolutionary biology as an explanation.

Almost all of the human interest in mathematics dates back to the last few thousand years: this is too short a time for biological evolution to have any impact on such a complex trait. As far as I am aware there is very little evidence to show that there is anything "evolutionary" about the low representation of women in IITs. Such pronouncements also seem to completely ignore the completely different situation that has been observed in other societies (e.g., Israel, Iran, and the erstwhile USSR, all of which produced a large number of women engineers).

aritro said...

Wow! Great to see such great minds not only do cutting edge research (at IITs!) but be conscientious enough to mull on pressing societal maladies.
Makes you feel that all is not wrong with the country after all.

aritro said...

Salute to a true statesman. We need women emancipation in this country.

Swagatika said...

@S. Meera, I really got to note many points from your response. Thanks for sharing your experience.

prabha said...

For the girls parent are not ready to spare money for the coaching centre.(huge amout of lakhs). Also in addition to regular coaching many students are attending double coaching like additional parralel coaching starting at 5 am having test at nigh 9 pm etc. A parent has to be set lot of time to take care of their daughters to leave and bring back them due social safety needs. Another point is the discussion/solving of the academic problems among the girls is very rare. But the boys help each other and study. Most of the IIT's (earlierIIT's) except chennai was in north, this made the southern state people to think twice to try for girls prepare/admission in IITs.
At the same time if you look at the medical admission even in private medical colleges(which cost run up to crore) the parents are taking admission for their daughters. Even when I scanned some of the private medical colleges(universities) list the number of girls have taken admission is more than boys in this MBBS admission.
Reserving seats may not be a better approach. But course fees concession including hostel subsidy for girls students may improve the skewed ratio over a large period of time.

Ashok Kumar said...

As mentioned by some other people as well only and single reason for less numbers of girls is coaching centers. Indian parents don't generally send their girls to cities like Kota, Hyderbad etc. Why don't they send? Well, there are two main reasons first one is parents don't want to send because they worry about the safety of girls, dignity of family and orthodox ideas like they are born to cook and serve her family. Second one is sometimes they can't invest huge amount of money because girls will go to an another family after marriage. So the point is there is nothing wrong in admission process or girls are less deserving. Solutions is very simple.
1. Shut down all private schools.
2. Equal education should be there for everyone.
3.There should only medium of teaching and that should be English all over the country. People must option to choose a language which they are interested in and wants to read. At least medium of instruction should be English.
Is it Possible?
I am not hopeful till current national political players like BJP, Congress, CPI and AAP etc. are there.
Is it possible?

rashmi aggarwal said...

JEE advanced has become a test of nerves, more than a test of talent and intellect. Each IIT is busy taking pride, and scoring a point above others in how they jumbled up the marking scheme or pattern of questions which stumped the candidates badly, and end up in lowering the cut off marks, year after year.This is definitely in favor of candidates who burnt the midnight oil in close confines of coaching centers in Kota or Hyderabad, or those enrolled in dummy school and depended on the coaching center for securing good marks in board , while they remained busy in breaking every possible code of surprise the organizing IIT could have kept in store for them.
The skewed gender profile of success in this exam could be directly proportionate to the fact that only a handful of girls venture out in this environment where at every step, their gender becomes a handicap. Late nights, odd schedules, and most important, complete lack of support from the peer group, which belongs to the same society where accepting a girl or women in the driving seat is the biggest discomfort.
I have witnessed how a bright or the the brightest in the class being a girl is ostracized by boys, no sharing of information or no guidance to be sought from her, knowing it well that she is capable. parents of boys will brand a high performing girl as a hardworking or of being a book worm, and say how their under performing son is so bright but does not study enough. i have even seen the faculty waiting for a boy to take lead in the class instead of a girl.girls are as good or as bad as boys in all fields, it is the society which so naturally buys a doll for a girl and car and gun for a boy that sows the seed for this gender divide.

Bigger picture , slightly on a tangent, is the exam pattern of IIt entrance, which unfortunately does not do an IQ test but places entire emphasis on higher learning and mugging of the three subjects, considering little that a high mental ability person with a consistently good academic record, achievements like NTSE,KVPY, Olympiads can always steer through the IIT maze comfortably. After all, our own students after clearing SAT and with a decent CV are doing wonders in best technical institutes like MIT,Stanford, CMU etc,without going through the tortures in a dingy lanes of coaching classes and two years of complete isolation from the world prior to the JEE. They also work sincerely and excel.

Despite all this Girls are slowly and steadily progressing, kudos to all of them.