New tools are helping students conceptualise and build their own websites

“I had done a project in the third grade on chart paper — it had constellations and planets almost replicating the 3D effect. The shades of crayons I used were perfect. And there was another with pictures of Princess Diana against the backdrop of candles with flames fluttering. I wish I could show them to my students,” says Nilisha Kothari, a history teacher at a private school in Ahmedabad.

The answer to this oft-repeated wish does not lie in storage mechanisms alone. While the Internet is a vast repository, selected and sorted information that is children-friendly remains elusive. Even as evaluations, tests and PTA meetings have gone online, work on projects — cited by the Central Board for Secondary Education to be an important facilitator of a good working environment — is yet to go online.

The lack of web hosting services in the country, particularly for students, and the perception of the Internet as an exploitative medium are often reasons for schools not insisting on online projects. Most reliable web hosting services in India charge anywhere around Rs.2,000 a year, and due to lack of players, most website owners have their sites hosted by firms overseas.

Many camps have been set up for summer holidays to train students from select schools in interactive online projects, but most are merely for learning purposes and will not necessarily be preserved.

However, the situation is changing. “Web hosting without web building is more of a commodity,” says Satya Narayanan, vice-president (marketing) of Akmin Technologies which, along with Orient Black Swan, has come up with ‘websiteforever,' an online tool for students to conceptualise and visualise their own content and build websites with customised controls.

“Projects on charts cannot be published online to be shared or preserved. This tool would help children above the age of 10 navigate through features and create content-rich files, besides being comfortable with terms like HTML, URL, domain name and web space,” Mr. Narayanan says, adding that the filtration facility will scan each word to make sure that children do not indulge in anything inappropriate for their age.

With the privilege to store unlimited data in all formats, the website is automatically scanned and gives suggestive ideas to make the website look better. “Parental control seems to be the most admired feature, because apart from the parent's login, the application also sends regular alerts to parents about the child's activities,” Mr. Narayanan says.

Mukul Sahgal, vice-president, school division, Orient Black Swan, says that such tools can help children create family websites and web pages on topics of their interest and showcase useful links related to the project. “A few months back, we launched a service where students could upload specific content, but we realised that children need unrestrained space and freedom to express themselves and that is what we trying to give them.”

Principal of Vani Vidyalaya Senior Secondary School and Junior College Aruna Appaswamy says such online activities will help children relate to concepts better. For instance, to better understand a chapter on pollution, children can be asked to create a website of neighbourhood places they think are highly polluted and keep track of it, even as they grow older.

Educator Amukta Mahapatra, however, observes that children under the age of 12 need to relate more to people than to machines. “They should learn to construct their imagination through reality. Everything done on a computer cannot be called creative,” she says.

Ms. Appaswamy, who is eager to adopt such innovations, believes that animation and thematic templates interest not only children but also parents. “Those working in the IT sector find it fascinating and want their children to excel at it. After all, it is never too early to learn for a 21st century learner,” she says.