Revolutionising Education — Chapter 3: Students Build the School Website!

This is a series of articles following my initiative to bring reform to the way education happens. You can find all the chapters in this series here.

Quick recap of what we’ve done so far (skip to the next paragraph for details on the current chapter)— In January 2019 I visited 5 rural schools for 3 months as part of a pilot program to ascertain what can be done to revolutionise the way education happens. After gathering some insights, I contacted a few schools nearby to conduct more intensive training programs for kids to learn computer skills for free. One of those schools is Ramakrishna Vidya Niketan in Thiruverkadu, Chennai (RVN). So far I’ve conducted 2 courses at RVN. In the first one, I taught ~20 students the basics of web development — HTML and CSS. This article is about the second course.

The school administration was quite elated to see the impressive results of the first course. So they were quite eager to conduct a follow up course. My motive for the follow up course was to do something that would build upon what they’d learned in the first course, but also offer some standalone skill that they could monetize if they got good enough.

Just when I was wondering what to teach in the second course, the school administrators asked me for a favour. They wanted me to build the school’s website. And I saw a great opportunity in this — why not get the students to a point where they can build the school website on their own?! And it would be a brilliant achievement, both for me as a teacher, and obviously for the students, who can show off their achievements, and also for the school — they get a free website built by their own students!

To do this I chose to teach them WordPress, which was well-suited for this purpose. It was versatile, easy to pickup, easy to maintain and most importantly, possible to make money off of if one got good enough.

So on August 21st, 2019 I started teaching WordPress to few of the same students from the first course. The course lasted ~22 hours spread across 4 weeks and catered to 14 students and 2 staff from the school.

To be able to conduct this course, each of the students had to have a PC with internet connection. The school had the PCs but they neither had a WiFi network nor were the PCs capable of connecting to WiFi. So I spent ~₹2500 of my personal money to acquire a WiFi router, a data plan and some wireless network adaptors for the PCs.

I spent the first few weeks going over the basics of building commercial websites and some associated terminology. Once they were familiarised to the context, I began walking them through setting up a demo website on WordPress. After they seemed comfortable with the interface, I asked them to build a personal website for themselves as a project. Along the way I showed them how to setup pages and add posts and various other features that WordPress offers.

Once they were done and felt fairly confident of their exposure to what WordPress had to offer, I asked them to take on the task of independently building the school’s website. I told them that at the end of the week, I would select a handful of students whose websites were the most impressive and offer them more advanced training in WordPress. And everyone was eager to get shortlisted. Throughout this process, the kids were exceptionally eager to learn and were fully engaged.

At the end of the week I selected 5 students and asked them to form a team to build the school’s actual website. In this process, I orchestrated them and had them build all of the pages, format the content, add the images and find the right plugins etc. They gained hands-on experience in building the website on their own, even though there were a couple of problems where I had to intervene and help.

Students having fun building the school website!

In just 4 days, they were done with building the entire website!

Everyone was so pleased with this and the school organised a formal inauguration event to officially inaugurate the website on the day of Vijayadashami (8th, October). I was felicitated with a gift for this effort as well!

I received a gift from the hands of Pappaji (Mr. S. Vidyaakar, Founder of Udavum Karangal) for the efforts.

Overall this whole initiative was a grand success beyond my expectations! When I set out to do this I wasn’t sure as to what can be achieved, but turns out that we’ve established that kids can be equipped with the ability to build their own websites in a matter of just 40 hours. And we’ve also witnessed how project-based learning can be a great approach to ensure active participation of the students. We’ll certainly be using these insights to consolidate this model of training students in relevant skills as we move further in this journey.

Before the second course ended, the headmistress reached out to me asking about the next course, which made me happy. We’re already underway with the third course and this one is the most exciting of all! Stay tuned for updates!

Update I — Some links originally in this post are now not available and have been removed.

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