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RFID Goes to School

The technology earned mixed grades when first deployed in schools. Now, its use is growing, slowly but steadily, with applications focused on improving teacher efficiency and ensuring student safety.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 11, 2012—In the United States and many other countries, governments acknowledge that students are their best assets. But approaches to improving education vary widely, with issues ranging from school types to classroom sizes and teaching methods. Still, there are several issues on which governments and educators agree: We must improve attendance rates, keep kids and teachers safe, and devote more time to teaching and less to administrative tasks.

To address these issues, schools, including colleges and universities, are beginning to implement RFID identification, attendance and alert solutions. When schools first introduced personal-identification applications, parents and privacy advocates were afraid that students' safety could be compromised. Technology providers acknowledged those concerns and have taken steps to secure personal information, as well as to explain how the technology works. As a result, more schools and parents understand the benefits of tracking children, and RFID's use in the education sector is growing, slowly but surely.

ScholarChip, a New York-based provider of RFID attendance and payment solutions, has issued close to 750,000 RFID tags in various formats—ID cards, fobs and stickers. Students hold their RFID-enabled ID badges to readers as they enter the school building, and again as they enter classrooms, where readers are mounted on teachers' desks.

Meanwhile, some schools are adopting RFID solutions to better manage valuable assets. Mexico's Universidad Regiomontana, for example, is using RFID to prevent theft of laptop computers it issues to staff and faculty. The Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, in Texas, is tracking state-of-the-art equipment to improve inventory management. And universities in the United Arab Emirates are RFID-tagging diplomas, to ensure the documents' validity. In addition, some parents and educators have developed innovative applications to help students learn and improve their health.

Automating Attendance
In early 2005, Brittan Elementary School, in Northern California, invited a now-defunct startup to install an RFID-based automated attendance-tracking system. The school wanted to test whether the technology, which would collect the identification number encoded to the RFID-enabled school IDs issued to students, would give teachers more time to teach and provide accurate records on student whereabouts, which would prove useful in the event of a student disappearance or other emergency.
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