President Pratibha Patil on Thursday said the Indira Gandhi National Open University could play a significant role in reducing disparities in education by extending education opportunities to villages and remote areas of the country.

“IGNOU has over 15 per cent of all learners enrolled in higher education in the country,” the President said at the IGNOU silver jubilee celebrations at Maidan Garhi here.

Emphasising the need to enhance the percentage of certified workers in the country, Ms. Patil said: “While developed countries have 85 per cent certified workers, our country has only five per cent workers with some sort of certification.”

The President launched new initiatives by IGNOU such as flexible learning platform, new Gyan Vani radio stations and the Gyandeep programme. She also announced institution of the Rajiv Gandhi International Prize for Education and Technology Development.

Praising the flexible learning platform, Ms. Patil said it would enable prospective learners to sample a course before enrolling and thus help them choose appropriate programmes.

The Gyandeep initiative, she said, would enable Army personnel to acquire formal qualifications and degrees: “It will not only help Army personnel in their work but also help them acquire a new professional life after retiring from the Army.”

Dwelling on the need for technology for open universities, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said: “There is a need to invest in technology to enhance access to complex educational resources which is necessary for distance learning. Interactive teaching can be enabled by technology. The Internet and mobile can be used for dissemination of information. There is a need for establishing connectivity through broadband and open-source software.”

“We must raise the country’s literacy level from the current 64 per cent to 90 per cent. People should be able to acquire skills without attending formal educational institutions and without having to leave their jobs,” he added.

Articulating the direction that open universities need to take, HRD Minister of State D. Purandeswari said the courses and programmes of such universities should cater to all who wish to acquire and upgrade their knowledge. “To promote learning and encourage excellence in new knowledge fields we must have an innovative open university system which should be flexible in terms of combination of courses, enrolment eligibility and conducting of examinations,” she added.

IGNOU Vice-Chancellor Professor V. N. Rajasekharan Pillai said the student strength at IGNOU which was 4,000 in its founding year 1985 had gone up to 2.5 million now in the silver jubilee year.