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Cashless lunches come to Australian schools

By Vanessa Tripodi

For some Australian school students a lunch from the canteen is a special treat they only get to enjoy once or twice a week, and others in their class may buy their lunch every day because they choose to sleep in instead of making a sandwich, or their parents are rushed in the mornings. Even with the introduction of new healthy guidelines for canteen foods, buying a fresh sandwich and a yummy juice is still usually more exciting than something that was squashed into the school bag.

However, where there are school students with lunch money, there can be any number of problems. These problems can range from: losing their money in a fight or trading it with a fellow student to being distracted by a fast food chain before they have gotten a chance to hand over their lunch money to the canteen workers. Therefore, many schools across Australia are introducing cashless lunch payment systems. There are a number of successful systems already in place.

Online lunch orders
Sydney primary schools are using the Munch Monitor program, which allows parents to log in to the program each morning and allocate lunch orders to each of their children. Parents use their credit cards to add credit to their child's lunch account, and they are prompted with reminders when the funds are running low. With the Munch Monitor system, the kids can help with their orders in the same way they would help Mum or Dad count out the change into their paper bag before school. Parents know their child's order is safe and will be waiting at lunch time.

Flexischools is another system being used by Australian schools that creates a prepaid account where parents transfer funds using their credit card or a Bpay transaction. The Flexischools system allows parents to enter their child's allergies and spending limits. The child's menu is then updated online and sent to the canteen manager to be ordered and prepared.

Prepaid smart cards
Mifare is a contact-less technology that is used in smart cards and can be customised for a number of applications, such as bus passes and other low-value transactions. Mifare smart cards are just one example of a cashless school canteen option, as they can be loaded with an amount chosen by the parent and are only accepted at the school canteen's specialised card reader. Therefore, instead of giving your child a credit or debit card, you are giving a card that can only be used within the school, programmed to be compatible with only the school card readers.

Another alternative is parents paying a certain amount to the school at the beginning of the year. Each time their child buys something from the canteen, the purchase is deducted from the amount.

SMS canteen orders
Schools in New South Wales are using the mHITs Easy Canteen program, which allows parents to pay for lunch orders via SMS. The mHITs payment service allows money to be sent between members of the system and can be topped up from any back account.

With more control for parents and more technologically advanced systems for Australian schools, students are a less attractive target for bullies and thieves, and parents don't have to worry about whether their child is ready for the responsibility of a real credit card.

Article by Vanessa Tripodi

Published: October 27, 2009

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