Should Barcodes Be Used on Student ID’s?

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Should Barcodes Be Used on Student ID’s?

A customer recently came to us with questions about integrating barcode technology in an elementary school lunch program. Barcodes are an excellent way to cut down on human error and are also great for the first-line defense against the theft of important information like numbers, addresses, and other data that may otherwise appear on an ID card.

Here is how the lunch program currently works:

  1. Each student is issued an ID card that displays the student’s ID number.
  2. The student selects their meal items and brings them to the register where the cafeteria employee enters the items.
  3. The student manually enters their ID number and the debit card associated with the ID number is then charged accordingly.
This seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? While this process may look good on its face, there are glaring inefficiencies and a lot of room for potential errors.

What if the student forgets their ID card? 

Students are encouraged to memorize their ID number in the event that they forget the card, but they do not always do so. The resulting impact is that cafeteria employees have to spend more time at checkout locating a student’s ID number, which can slow down the line and leave students with less time to eat.

A potential solution to this problem is to leave the student ID cards with their teachers instead of with the students themselves. Each teacher would keep the ID cards of the students who go to lunch after their class, and distribute them so that the students will always have their cards. It’s possible that some students will find a way to lose their cards between class and lunch, but the likelihood is greatly diminished if the cards are handed out by the teacher on a daily basis and then returned to the teacher after.

What if the wrong ID number is entered? 

Given the high rate of error in elementary school children entering a string of numbers from memory or even a card, it’s probable that one student’s account may end up being charged for another’s lunch. This can also be a problem when students see the ID numbers of their peers and enter them intentionally, instead of their own. This is an inconvenience for both parents as well as for the school, whose employees have to process a refund and charge the correct account. Questions of theft can also come into play under these circumstances.

The best way to minimize the likelihood of human error is to eliminate the opportunity for the error to occur in the first place. This can be done by either adding a barcode to the existing student ID or by completely replacing the student ID number with a barcode.

How To Add Barcodes to Student ID Cards

It’s easier to add barcodes to your student’s ID cards than you think. All you really need are a few important things as outlined below:

Barcode Software To Use

Most student ID numbers are going to be no more than 13 characters. This is good news because the easiest solution is to use Code 39 barcode fonts. Why? Because of its simple encoding process. The data you want to turn into a barcode must be formatted properly before the font is applied to it, or else your scanner will not recognize the barcode. In the case of Code 39, all you need to do is type an asterisk before and after the data you want to encode. Like this:

Just highlight the above data and then apply the appropriate Code 39 font to it and you’ve got a readable barcode. IDAutomation also offers a Free Code 39 Font for educational purposes and non-profit organizations. Other barcode types that encode larger amounts of data require more complex encoding which is usually done with a special font encoder tool. This makes these other font types less compatible with other programs, especially in comparison to Code 39 which is essentially compatible with any application that can call on a specific font. If other barcode types need to be used, consider Barcode Label Software.

Barcode Scanner To Use

IDAutomation USB Bacode Scanners are excellent for reading Code 39 barcodes in a POS environment, even if it’s a school cafeteria. If a stand is purchased as well, the scanner can be programmed to continuous mode which means the student need only hold their ID card in front of the scanner and wait for the beep that indicates a successful read without even touching any POS equipment. This not only cuts out the risk of human error in entering the correct ID number but also extends the life of POS equipment which is handled much less.


It doesn’t take much to increase the efficiency of your elementary school’s lunchroom, thereby cutting wasteful costs. IDAutomation can provide the necessary products to add barcodes to your student IDs and scan them into your cafeteria POS system with relative ease.
Published on: Jan 17, 2014