In late July, when I visited the Government High School in the Khunde Halal village of Punjab’s Sri Muktsar Sahib district, students of the eight standard were sitting cross-legged in a corridor. Their bags were strewn on floormats inside an empty classroom which did not have any benches. The school’s records showed that 361 students were enrolled between standards one to 10. Of these, 350—almost 97 percent—are from the Scheduled Caste community.
The number of students enrolled in the primary classes of the school, between standards one to five, dropped from 168 in 2015 to 140 students in the ongoing academic session. Of the 140 students, 138 are Scheduled Castes. Referring to the lack of students from the general category in the school, the primary wing’s headmaster Jaswinder Singh said, “These schools, as you see for yourself, have remained for the poor only.”
The primary wing seems to illustrate the situation in all of Punjab’s government schools, according to data of the state’s school-education department. In the past decade, the enrolment of students in Punjab’s government schools has dropped by more than 1.2 lakhs—from 24,52,203 students in the 2009–2010 academic session to 23,29,622 in 2018–2019. Moreover, the number of Scheduled Caste students in the schools has increased by almost 1.2 lakh in the same time frame—from 14,18,790 students in 2009 to 15,37,759 students in the ongoing academic session, as of 25 July 2019. The schools had 57.8-percent Scheduled Caste students in 2009 and the percentage increased to 63.59, as of 25 July this year. The data suggests that more Scheduled Caste students than before seem to be suffering due to the poor quality of education in government schools.