Does a School Really Need a Website?

Ever since I and my colleague Rogers Mukalele launched E-zone Web Services, our web design agency, we have managed to gathera rich portfolio of websites to our name. For those who don’t know us, I and Mukalele are teachers of ICT by profession each with more than a decade of teaching Computer Studies and ICT in secondary schools here in Uganda.

With over 50,000 schools in Uganda, it looked obvious that the pool of prospects was really huge and we started on a campaign to tap into that niche. But we were wrong! We mistook our experience of working in schools. We thought that this was an area we were well conversant with and therefore would provide the ideal and affordable solution.

One year down the road, we had only a few schools onboarded yet we had several websites done for other companies. We built online news sites, NGO websites, Church websites and some international organisations. So, at the begining of this year, I decided to visit a few schools to find out their perception towards going online. In all the schools I visited, one questiosn kept coming up – Does a school really need a website?

This article serves to justify why a school in these modern times needs a website. Infact, a school without a website is on its way to oblivion. I could have mentioned schools that were giants in the 90s and 2000s but now shadows of their former self. The reason for their demise is their failure to change with the times. A school website is now a must have and below are the reasons.

The advent of e-learning

In modern times, the class has gone beyond the traditional four walls. Lessons can be done in a variety of ways including the field (Study Tours), on TV, Radio, on Phone and ultimately online. The Covid-19 pandemic was just an eye opener. In Uganda, international schools continued their classes while for our traditional schools, kids are stranded at home without any form of learning.

A snapshot showing the candidates of Kabojja International School for the year 2020.

Some schools have over the years developed online platforms that have kept their students engaged even during holidays. Gayaza High School is one of the pioneers with their elearning platform which can be accessed here. Nabisunsa Girls School is another school that launched their elearing platform in response to the covid-19 pandemic, thanks to their digitally progressive teacher Mr. Ayub Kalema Golooba.

Schools ought to know that parents of this age are digitally literate and always searching for study materials for their children. Sadly, they can’t find their prefered schools online which is a minus for their generation. As an example, Uganda’s most visited e-learing platform, www.sharebility.net gets over 10,000 visitors a day. This means that the demand for online learning materials is steadily growing and one way a school can tap into this is by owning a website that serves the interests of their parents and learners.

It is even more convinient if a school posted their holiday work on the school portal where students can access it on their devices. This eliminates the need for a parent travelling miles to pick a workbook that could otherwise be downloaded online.

Keeping parents, learners and other stake holders updated

In this digital era, how people get information has changed a lot. Parents need to get regular updates about their school fast and in real time. A website gives you a cheap way to get to your parents and learners as compared to traditional methods like magazines. Information posted on a school website is trusted and legitimate, can be updated in real time and can reach anyone anywhere on the planet in no time.

A good school website will have a calendar with term dates and a blog page where all activities and updates from a school can be accessed. Parents need not worry about where to keep circulars and can refer to the website whether they are upcountry, abroad or in office.

Posts and updates on a school website also help eliminate the problem of fake news. In a world where malicious damage can be done to an institution, a parent only needs to visit the school portal for official information instead of relying on third part sources.

Real time feedback and communication with parents

Modern websites like the ones we made for St. Joseph of Nazareth High School and Kyambogo College School are integrated with modern chat features that enable anyone to chat with school administration instantly. Since most people are using phones to search or visit websites, it is possible to simply click on an icon and send a message to administration using WhatsApp, Messenger or any other platform.

This gives administration an authentic picture of their relationship with stakeholders. A parent who clicks to ask about fees structure or lodge a complaint will get immediate feedback from the source without the hustle of visiting the school.

As people from across the country engage with the school through these chat features, the school collects contacts of propective parents which they can use to get back to them.

Exhibiting your school

Schools will go all the way to exhibit their schools at fares and other gatherings. However such exhibits are only temporary and cannot be referred to in case a person picks interest after the exhibition.

A section of St. Joseph of Nazareth High School website.

A website is a permanent place for a school to exhibit to the world. A simple search in google will take you to the school’s page where a parent will easily pick the official contact. The school can use its online gallery to show its class environment, sports activities, school tours and general school life all on one screen.

To see how a school exhibits itself online, please visit the Grand Maria School Website. All that is displayed on the website cannot be displayed on a simple flyer, brochure or TV commercial – and its live 365 days a year with the advantage that you can update any part of the website at your convenience.

People are searching for schools on their phones

Years ago, a new parent in a locality would physically move around visiting each school before making a decision. They would set out on a fact finding mission to know which subjects your school offers, whether learners participate in co-curricular activities, the fees structure and more. Not any more! Your website should provide a virtual tour.

Many decisions happen on phone without the need to visit the school.

The first place a prospective parent visits is google and search for “schools near me”. She will them compare all the results in the comfort of her seat. In many cases, she will even make her decision while still at home. She will then google “Directions to so and so school”.

She will then click on her phone to call the school or click to chat via WhatsApp. Therefore, a school that’s not online is missing out on may prospects. Times have surely changed and only those schools that change with the trends will survive the digital revolution.

Websites help reduce the use of paper

Imagine how much paper you use when giving students an end of term circular. How much do you save when you post the circular. On a school website, administration can post a circular, term dates, school rules and regulations and more thus saving the planet by using less paper.

Class assignments can also be posted online during holidays without requiring parents to travel miles to the school to pick a holiday workbook.

A cheaper way to promote your school

Schools promote themselves in several ways including but not limited to Radio and TV adverts, Posters, Flyers, SMS and Exhibitions. The downside with these methods is that you can only display limited information. TV adverts are expensive and viewers may watch only half the advert without understanding what the advert was about.

A school website provides all the information a prospective parent needs. The information is permanent, regularly updates and gives an instant avenue to receive parents’ comments and feedback. When a website is done, a school may part with even less than UGX 200,000/= per year on web hosting. This is far less when compared to delivering 1000 flyers that are many times gotten rid of even before being read.

In a timely manner, a school’s events e.g. speech day, sports day are immediately posted giving parents and the world timely updates about what is happening at your school without incurring extra costs in traditional media.

A visit to your school website will show prospective parents your history, your core values, notable alumni, classroom environment all in one place.

Serious schools have websites

If all the above reasons don’t convince one to have a website, then why do serious and top performing schools still own websites? If you were asked to mention 10 schools you admire, chances are that all those that you admire have a website.

When we look at the list of top 10 performing schools of 2019, only 2 didn’t have websites. Continuing down the list, only 16 out of the top 50 performing schools didn’t have websites. Of the 16 that don’t have, 12 are already working on their new websites. This is evidence that going online is now more than important than ever before.

15 years ago, telling a school director that a school needed a school van raised a lot of debate. Currently, because of needs, schools will even hire a taxi to ferry their kids to and fro. So is the same for a school website. While one may not notice the importance of going online, only time will judge them and if not handled professionally, some schools might find themselves only in history books.

Conclusion

It is now more than ever necessary for schools to go online. The Covid-19 pandemic was just a trigger to remind us of this need. But it is also understandable that many don’t know where to start or have had a bad experience with web designers in the past. If for one reason or another you had some reservations for going online, feel free to contact me on the address below and I will guide you through the journey. You may need to first look at some of the websites I have built if you click here.

Stephen Dumba - ICT Teachers Association of Uganda

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Stephen Dumba is the co-ordinator Central Region ICT Teachers Association of Uganda and Director E-zone School of Computing. Besides teaching, he is a veteran Computer Repair Technician, a Web Designer and a regular speaker at tech events and teachers’ workshops.
+256 772 111 223 / +256 752 111 223 / [email protected]
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