RFID in Education

By Bree Bergman

Why knowing the location of students and teachers is vital.


Never before has a back-to-school season created so much fear, stress and anxiety. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions of all sizes are facing new challenges as they implement cleaning, social distancing and other safety procedures to keep students and faculty members safe.

Already, many learning institutions have invested in plexiglass barriers for classrooms and tents for outdoor lessons while implementing new cleaning and “no sharing” policies for school equipment. Countless others have taken steps to separate students by grade or location in an effort to limit contact and prevent the spread of infections—particularly in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak. All of these policies are vital to keeping students and personnel safe, but how can schools and universities make sure their policies are actually followed?

Why Tracking Is Critical in a Post-Pandemic World
Technologies such as radio frequency identification can help. First, schools can use an RFID asset-management system to tag all valuable school equipment, ranging from computers to microscopes to plexiglass barriers. This allows them to scan the equipment when it is moved from one location to another and thus track exactly what is available and where it is being used.

Keeping Costs Down
In a “no sharing” world in which each student needs his or her own Bunsen burner during science class, tagging and tracking equipment can help keep costs down by allowing unused inventory to be cleaned and moved between classrooms to accommodate larger class sizes. This minimizes the need to purchase extra inventory. In addition, the tags can be read to note when the equipment was last sanitized so teachers can ensure that it is safe and ready for use.

Enabling Contact Tracing
RFID-encoded ID badges are frequently used to monitor student movement, which can be critical in tracing everyone who has had contact with a COVID-19-infected person. These tags help limit student interaction by only allowing access to certain locations based on given parameters, such as the time of day or a student’s grade level. Universities, for example, can use RFID tags to limit student and visitor entry to designated buildings or dormitories, thus reducing the likelihood of spreading the virus.

How RFID Is Already Keeping Students Safe
During the past few years, many college campuses have already implemented RFID-enabled student ID cards as a way to monitor the locations of students, professors and support personnel on campus. The goal? Keeping students and faculty members safe during volatile and potentially dangerous situations. High schools can use the technology to quickly pinpoint intruders, identify unplanned gatherings, diffuse unforeseen conflicts and identify shelter locations. RFID has also proven its effectiveness in better tracking truancy by automatically monitoring whether a student has shown up at school or leaves the building later in the day. This not only keeps students in school, but also helps schools prove attendance numbers, which is often necessary to secure state funding.

Just the Beginning
In past years, privacy advocates have fought against the use of RFID in schools. But when used responsibly, the technology is a valuable tool that promotes students’ safety. The bottom line is that even before “coronavirus” was a household word, RFID was already helping schools and universities keep students, employees and equipment safe. These days, the technology gives schools and universities another critical tool in the fight against COVID-19.

Bree Bergman, Zebra Technologies‘ director of vertical and field marketing practice lead, manages a team in the development and execution of go-to-market strategies for government, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, logistics and retail. Bergman has more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech arena. She devises ideas and campaigns to heighten brand visibility, drive product demand and increase sales. Previously, Bergman served at Motorola Solutions, Psion Teklogix, BlueStar and CP Shades. She holds a BA degree from the University of Kentucky and is a sought-after industry speaker. Bergman serves on the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center’s board of trustees and frequently lectures at the Adult Congenital Heart Defect program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. To learn about RFID solutions that can help schools ensure student safety, please click here.