There was an interesting programme on Radio 4 yesterday entitled The Goddess of English about English in India (listen here). The 'goddess' in the title is the deification of the English language by some Indians, primarily the poor and the Dalits, or people formerly known as 'Untouchables'. The goddess wears a sari, and a straw hat, holds aloft a pink pen and is modelled on the Statue of Liberty. English is seen by these people as a passport out of poverty and social exclusion, and the key to social mobility and access to power.
The programme gave a brief historical background to the adoption of English as the medium of education in India. It was Lord Macaulay who promoted it in the 1830s, in opposition to those who promoted Sanskrit or Persian. Macaulay objected to the caste system and saw English as a unifying medium which should be available to all sectors of society. English as the language of unity is still an argument used today by proponents of English learning and teaching, given that Hindi is used by less than half of the population and is mainly restricted to the north of the country.
Today many poor people scrimp and save to send their children to English-medium schools. But the teaching is often poor, as the teachers' knowledge is not that good, and the children are not exposed to English in their life outside school (as opposed to pupils of more expensive English-medium so-called convent schools, who do hear and maybe communicate in English at home). Some adults spend half their salary on English evening classes, although standards are patchy here too. A businessman interviewed explained why; if a person can speak good English he or she will easily get a job, even without academic qualifications in other subjects. On the other hand, someone with good qualifications, but poor English is likely to receive a lower salary - the language of academia, the judiciary, government and bureaucracy is English.
Here's the link to the radio programme.