How Robotic Solutions Can Help the K-12 Education Sector Return Safely

The 2020/2021 school year brings with it a whole new set of concerns and issues as the K-12 education system plans for how to return to school safely while grappling with issues caused by COVID-19. 

Concerns center around how to reopen schools with protocols and practices that adhere to increased cleaning and social distancing guidelines all the while keeping children and teens, educators, administrators, janitorial staff, and families safe and healthy. 

COVID-19 ADDS ADDITIONAL CHALLENGES TO REOPENING SCHOOLS

The K-12 education system faces its own unique set of challenges when deciding whether to bring students back into the classroom, and how to do so safely.

Social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks are widely accepted as ways to help curb the spread of COVID-19, but amongst school aged children the virus has been studied less, simply due to the slow spread among people under 18.

Children have been the least impacted by Coronavirus, however, research on how they spread it and if they can spread it is still in initial stages. Much of the research that has been done so far is on patients that have contracted the virus and a large majority of that population is over 60 years old. 

Unfortunately, that does not leave children and teens exempt and there have been cases of people of all ages contracting the virus and becoming extremely ill.

On top of concerns about health, much of the feedback about the online learning that most schools resorted to between March 2020 and June 2020 was that it did not work.

According to a recent Washington Post article, “Distance learning has not gone well in much of the country. In Philadelphia, many students did not have computers, so the district directed teachers to use the time for review of material already taught. No new content was introduced, and students did not get grades.”

This was the case in many districts across the country as teachers and staff were caught off guard and a majority had not had earlier training on how to move their instruction online and make it engaging and effective.

Additionally, parents often rely on the K-12 school system for a lot more than just education. Many working families struggle during the off season with finding quality childcare and being able to afford it—add to that schools not reopening during the regular academic year and problems escalate. “...until schools do reopen, the nation's most vulnerable children will continue to be hardest hit — losing consistent access to meals, valuable learning time, and vital social-emotional support,” NPR reports. Sending kids to school is often an absolute must for working families in order for parents to work and for children to have a safe space to go to each day. 

All of this leaves administrators and educators scrambling to make the best decisions for all people involved as districts plan to reopen. 

 

PROPOSED IDEAS FOR RETURNING TO SCHOOL DURING COVID-19

Current proposals for reopening run the gamut. Some schools will not re-open for the first quarter, others are planning to open but with a hybrid model—time spent learning from home and at school in order to decrease the number of students in the building, others are planning to keep students 6ft apart, have students eat lunch in classrooms, and require everyone to wear a mask in school buildings and on busses. On the other end of the spectrum are districts planning for a full reopen with enhanced safety and cleaning procedures. 

The scenarios differ based on location—full-scale openings are more likely in rural areas of the country where COVID-19 has not had a significant impact, and limited reopening options are more likely in areas of the country where there are higher reports of cases. 

Still, the reality of opening schools back up during the pandemic is that it is going to cost school districts a lot of money and they are going to need added support to make it work.

According to a report cited by NPR, “the average district would incur nearly $1.8 million in additional expenses, with the bulk of the spending going toward hiring additional custodial staff, nurses and aides to take students' temperatures before they board school buses.” Much of the concern is centered on the need for increased staffing and funding to support students, staff and families as schools reopen. 

HOW ROBOTICS SOLUTIONS CAN HELP

Advanced cleaning equipment will be a key asset to janitorial teams and cleaning staff as they face the challenge of an increased workload. Utilizing advanced cleaning technologies is one way that schools can get added help while on a budget, and without adding extra bodies to indoor environments. Autonomous technology can also help assure that buildings are being cleaned efficiently. 

Affordable Help

In order to be ready to bring students back to campus, districts will need to ramp up their cleaning staff to meet new cleaning and sanitizing standards. This can cause budgetary strain for many districts. 

ICE Robotics, a leader in the advanced floor cleaning industry, offers a flexible subscription model for their equipment. This means a school can lease a floor sweeper or floor scrubber to take on routine floor cleaning for a low monthly payment. One of the largest costs for the cleaning industry is labor—roughly 70% of the budget. The set monthly payment includes parts, maintenance, and software upgrades (that can happen often). Adding this technology will increase productivity while also saving on cost of labor. 

Autonomous Cleaning

Robots like Whiz by ICE Robotics and SoftBank Robotics and EMMA by ICE Robotics and powered by BrainOS are designed to clean open flooring spaces on their own. The robot is manually taught the course one time, saving the route for future use. From that point on, the robot can be started on its route and will complete it autonomously. Adding a Cobot, like Whiz or EMMA, allows the janitorial team to grow without adding another human that would need to be inside the building. This also allows janitorial staff to focus on things like disinfecting and sanitizing. 

Efficiency and Productivity

Janitorial staff will face meeting increased cleaning standards and guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus. The need for added disinfecting and wiping of surfaces will add to the daily requirements causing janitorial staff to be pulled away from routine cleaning like floor care. Adding an autonomous sweeper or scrubber will allow janitorial staff to remain efficient and productive while also taking on more work. Students will inevitably touch walls and surfaces in highly trafficked areas and those spaces will need to be wiped down multiple times a day to help stop the spread of germs. While a Cobot cleans floors, janitorial staff can focus on added sanitization tasks.

Confirmed Clean

Current research shows that only 50% of parents are confident about sending their kids back to school in the fall. Administrators and educators will most likely be answering questions about processes and procedures put in place to help fight the spread of COVID-19. Cobots like Whiz and EMMA are designed with data tracking technology that allows operators to view the location of the robot at any time, track its route, and how often it runs each day. Having access to this information will allow school staff to give regular updates and reports to concerned parents and community members. This information can also help educators and administrators to feel better about being in school buildings where regular cleaning is being tracked and confirmed through advanced technology. 

Adding technology to the work force will help all involved and bring some sense of relief for parents, educators, and administrators as they prepare for the school year. 

ICE Robotics is here to help. Please contact our client care team to learn more about our services and equipment.