Students around the country could be using smartcards to access premises and computer systems if an Auckland trial proves successful.
A smart card system for schools, using centrally managed thin clients with card readers, is being developed by Gen-i. The company is currently running a pilot at Kristin School on Auckland’s North Shore.
The system is based around Sun Ray thin-client terminals, which are cost-effective because they have no operating systems or moving parts, says Gen-i’s service line-manager for open source solutions, Steve Osborn. They are also environmentally sound; the Sun Ray client only uses about 10 watts, he says. The terminals would connect the schools to Gen-i’s supercomputing facility in Wellington, he says.
The smart cards, equipped with RFID tags, hold profiles protected with a two-factor authentication mechanism — the card and a password, says Osborn. The cards can be used by system administrators for easy access to the school’s systems anywhere on campus. They can also be used by teachers, allowing them to log into any terminal at the school or from home — whether this be through a card-reader at home, or via password, says Osborn.
But the smart cards can also be used by students, and this is where the project is getting really interesting, says Osborn.
The cards could not only grant access to buildings or certain areas of the school, they could also be used to access terminals at the school, as well as students’ home computers, allowing students to access course material, forums or interactive sessions with teachers, he says. There would also be storage attached to each student ID, allowing them to store school work and other information that could be held for them until they leave school.
Some schools may install smartcard readers at every student’s home, but others may not be able to afford this. However, students could still access the system by using a password, says Osborn.
The cards could also have payment capabilities, allowing students to purchase food, or pay for clothing or trips, he says. It is possible the cards could also be linked to public transport.
The smart cards have the potential to give students access to buildings and terminals in the school, buy them lunch, take them home on the bus, and give them access to the schools network from home in order to do their homework, says Osborn.
All information would be stored on the supercomputer in Wellington, says Osborn.
The initial response from the Ministry of Education has been positive, he says. Gen-i is now waiting to see the feedback from Kristin School.
One of the benefits of Sun Ray terminals is they can be used for portable sessions.
Users can go from one Sun Ray to another and continue their work without closing any programs.
With a smartcard, all users have to do is slip in the card, enter their password when prompted, and they will be presented with their session.