Edtech gaps revealed by the pandemic

How Radio Frequency Identification can keep students safe – and can actually save schools money in the process

Schools will continue to do all they can to keep staff and students safe from COVID-19 when they are allowed to reopen. From taking temperatures as students arrive, to sanitising surfaces and shared equipment, the number of new processes schools will adopt is endless. While these new procedures – such as wearing masks, staying two metres apart, and sanitising surfaces and shared equipment – might seem tedious, they are all designed for the benefit of the entire school community. But there’s one additional measure some educational institutions are taking that could dramatically reduce the spread of the virus: tracking the location of students, teachers and other employees via radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

How RFID can help protect students during a pandemic

RFID can serve as a valuable tool protecting students from exposure to the virus. RFID-enabled student ID cards can help reduce co-mingling among students by limiting entry to particular rooms or buildings based on grade level, time of day or class schedule.

More importantly, if a student tests positive for COVID-19 or is showing symptoms, RFID badges can help with contact tracing by helping schools and universities determine the students that have spent a significant amount of time in the same location as the sick individual. This can be a critical tool in fighting the disease, as research shows that effective contact tracing can reduce the number of COVID infections by up to 71%.

RFID has a history of keeping students safe

RFID technology keeps students safe in other ways as well, which is why it has become increasingly popular with educational institutions in recent years. Many universities have issued RFID-enabled student ID cards to monitor the location of students, professors and other employees on campus. During potentially dangerous situations, the ID cards can be used to quickly locate individuals and get them out of danger.

In high schools, RFID can help manage who enters and leaves the building, making it easier for institutions to improve truancy monitoring and management. For example, schools can automatically monitor whether a student shows up for school in the morning, or if a student leaves the building before school ends. This not only keeps at-risk students in school, but also gives schools access to data that proves their attendance levels and ensures they receive much-needed funding. Consider this: an absence rate of just 2% cost one California school district more than US$1 million in lost funding in a single year.

The hidden cost savings provided by RFID

In addition to monitoring truancy, RFID can help schools reduce theft and waste through better tracking of computers, plexiglass barriers, microscopes, tablets and other valuable assets.

Tagging equipment can actually help educational institutions save money; for instance, tracking assets allows an educational institution to know exactly when new equipment is needed, thus limiting unnecessary purchases.

This is particularly helpful during the pandemic because many schools have adopted a ‘no sharing equipment’ policy, meaning each student needs their own classroom device. In many cases, this requires schools to make extra purchases, which can add up quickly when buying costly items. But RFID tagging allows schools to easily identify when equipment is sitting in an empty room and can be moved to another to support a different class. A simple scan of an RFID tag can even mark the exact time that equipment was last sanitised to ensure it’s safe for use.

Finally, when high-value assets have RFID tags, schools know immediately when a tagged asset leaves the facility. This can reduce theft, which is a problem in more than 86% of high schools and 69% of middle schools in America, according to the US Departments of Education and Justice.

In the past, some have voiced concerns about RFID tracking, particularly when it comes to student privacy. But the emergence of COVID-19 has shed new light on how the responsible use of RFID technology can provide multiple benefits and cost savings for educational institutions. Not only can the technology help educators fight COVID-19 and keep children safe and in school or on campus, it can also help them reduce unnecessary equipment purchases, secure critical funding and protect high-value assets.

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