Difference Maker

Sergei Abramov's goal: an educational blog that doesn't bore his fellow Russian teens

Students from all over Russia visit the 16-year-old's site, The Blog of a School Wise Guy, to learn about math, physics, literature, new scientific breakthroughs, or just curious facts.

By , Contributor

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    Teenager Sergei Abramov writes for and edits his own student website, a nonprofit partly funded by Microsoft.
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The Internet journey of Sergei Abramov started in 2008, when his parents bought the sixth-grade student in St. Petersburg, Russia, a computer. He browsed the Internet but to his surprise found no good websites in Russian for kids his age: They were either boring or hard to understand.

So he decided to create his own website for Russian youths.

"At first it was very hard, because I knew nothing about Web design or Internet-site building," Sergei says. He read an old textbook on marketing to understand how to promote his site.

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Then, with the help of teachers, older friends, professionals, and others, he brought the project to life.

Sergei's first visitors were schoolmates. Then he promoted the site on social networks and other school websites. Gradually he got an idea of what interested other kids his age. In 2010 he relaunched his site with a new, ironic name: The Blog of a School Wise Guy.

His project has become very successful, and students from all over Russia visit the site. The Blog of a School Wise Guy now boasts about 40,000 subscribers.

Denis Volkov, an eighth-grade student from the city of Novouralsk, ran across Sergei's site when browsing the Web.

"I find the site very interesting. It can't help you with the regular school subjects but can definitely broaden your horizons," Denis says.

"The site looks really impressive to me. It doesn't resemble the work of a 16-year-old," says Ivan Zassoursky, an expert on new media.

The objective of Sergei's site is to develop intellectual curiosity in students, he says in a telephone interview.

"I don't want just to say 'study different subjects.' The main message I'd like to promote is 'Develop yourself, explore the world around you, and try to do something to make a change,' " he says.

Sergei runs the site by himself. He writes the articles, which are devoted to subjects such as math, physics, or literature. He looks for information about scientific breakthroughs or curious facts that would interest his audience.

Five people help Sergei from time to time, but he is responsible for the main work. Teachers help copy-edit and check spelling. "I am in my ninth grade, so I obviously make mistakes. However, my spelling and punctuation have significantly improved since I started the project," Sergei says.

The blog is funded by donations. Sergei's first sponsors were his parents, but recently he has coaxed some businesses – Microsoft Russia, for example – to support his project. Another of his partners is St. Petersburg's famous Mariinsky Thea-tre and the Higher School of Eco-nomics. Together with these two institutions Sergei has launched a series of special webinars on his site.

"Sergei doesn't fit into the regular role of a teenager," says his father, Alexei Abramov. "My wife and I ... needed time to get accustomed to his activities. He has a talent for finding different people who help him with the project," Mr. Abramov says with a laugh.

Tatiana Chernova, a counselor at the Higher School of Economics, noticed Sergei's skills. "I've known him for two years. We worked together on the webinars. Sergei has always impressed me with his attitude toward work. He thinks like a grown-up," Ms. Chernova says.

Online education in Russia is growing rapidly, though it is perhaps a decade behind the United States.

"There are many companies that use webinars to train their employees in some special skills. However, higher and secondary education lag behind in this respect," says Yury Mitin, director of the business incubator at Moscow State University.

"The boy has found his target audience," Mr. Mitin says. "He solves a concrete problem – the lack of additional education for high school students."

Sergei devotes nearly all his time to his website. He was held back a year in school when a jaw injury caused him to miss classes. Now he's switched to a school that offers evening classes, which fits better with his busy work schedule.

[Editor's note: The original paragraph above incorrectly described why Sergei Abramov missed a year of school.]

"I wasn't able to combine the work on my blog with studying. Taking evening classes solved the problem," he says.

For Sergei, school is a place to obtain knowledge, a place to work, not for socializing. Not all of his teachers had understood his project or approved of it.

Sergei also has become an activist. He argues that 16-year-olds should have the right to vote in municipal elections. The current voting age is 18.

"I believe some teenagers know the life in their neighborhoods even better than adults," Sergei says. "Participating in municipal elections would be a great preparation for taking harder decisions during presidential or parliamentary elections. This is the way kids can contribute to the creation of civil society."

• Sergei Abramov's website (in Russian only) is at http://www.e-parta.ru.

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