Hong Kong school heads have said they are prepared for half-day classes and social-distancing measures to remain in place in September as the Education Bureau announced moving up this year's summer break to next week amid the resurgence of local Covid-19 cases.
Primary and secondary school principals who spoke to the Post are also concerned about whether pupils could make up for lost time and catch up with the scheduled syllabus, with some planning for revision lessons in the first few weeks of the next school year.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said on Friday that schools would advance the summer holiday by seven to 10 days to start it from Monday, as the city has recorded 38 confirmed infection cases, of which 32 are locally infected cases, bringing the tally to 1,403.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
At a press conference, Yeung said his bureau decided to suspend face-to-face classes at most kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in the face of a surge of new cases, although he insisted campuses are still “safe” as none of the new cases were infected at schools.
“The decision was made after thorough considerations. We have also heard from principals about some parents’ concerns [over the resurgent of infected cases]. Plus, it is just about one week earlier than schools’ original plans to start their summer break,” he said.
Schools would also be given flexibility to hold important tests such as the Primary Five exams for the purpose of allocating secondary school places, as well as make-up classes for senior secondary school students who need to prepare for their university entrance exams.
He added that schools have “done well” in terms of infection-control measures to ensure the mandatory wearing of face masks, body-temperature checks, as well as social distancing on campus, following a phased class resumption from May. Face-to-face lessons were first suspended for four months amid the pandemic beginning from early February.
Schools had also been having half-day classes on campus to minimise risks and prevent students eating together during lunchtime.
In fact, some parents have refused to let their children go to school over the past one or two days
Eiffel Chau, Hong Kong Parents League for Education Renovation
But Yeung did not lay out plans for the resumption of classes when the new academic year begins in September, saying further discussions would be required with experts.
Both the Professional Teachers’ Union and the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, two of the city’s largest teachers’ group, agreed that the bureau’s move was necessary.
Parent concern group Hong Kong Parents League for Education Renovation said parents understood the bureau’s decision was to “put children’s safety as the priority”.
“In fact, some parents have refused to let their children go to school over the past one or two days [amid the surge of cases],” said group spokesman Eiffel Chau.
Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said if the local pandemic situation remained unpredictable, infection control measures including half-day classes and social distancing might need to be kept in September.
Tang, principal of HKMA KS Lo College, said many secondary schools had scheduled make-up classes for senior secondary pupils in July and August to prepare for the university entrance exams. His school has already decided to switch them to online classes.
But he said some students had been worried about their learning progress following the months-long class suspension, adding that representatives from the education sector may meet later with education officials to discuss plans to assist them.
Fung Kai No. 1 Primary School principal Chu Wai-lam said his school would also turn the July make-up classes online instead.
More than 20,000 primary and lower-secondary cross-border pupils – Hongkongers living in the mainland with their families – had been unable to return to school campuses in the city because of unresolved quarantine and transport arrangements.
Most cross-border pupils study at schools in the New Territories such as in Tai Po, Yuen Long and the North district. Chu said he hoped all cross-border pupils could return to face-to-face classes with strengthened precautionary measures in place.
“We expect the first three weeks in the next school year would be used as revision time, to help pupils to make up for lost time and catch up with the syllabus,” he said.
Meanwhile, although extracurricular activities outside school during the summer holiday are popular among parents, the Education Bureau on Friday said these tutorial or interest classes would not need to be suspended over the coming weeks.
Trevor So Tik-hei, spokesman of the Hong Kong Education Centres’ Union, which represents tutorial centres, dance or drawing studios or sports schools, said many centres would continue to hold tutorial or interest classes under suitable precautionary measures.
So, who said many centres’ income had been largely affected during the earlier class suspension period, believed parents may decide if they would still let their children join such activities while those centres.
He said for those centres, which are located at high-risk areas such as buildings with a surge of infected cases, would be careful and would stop the lessons if necessary.
Rebel City: Hong Kong’s Year of Water and Fire is a new book of essays that chronicles the political confrontation that has gripped the city since June 2019. Edited by the South China Morning Post's Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book draws on work from the Post's newsrooms across Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington and Singapore, with unmatched insights into all sides of the conflict. Buy directly from SCMP today and get a 15% discount (regular price HKD$198). It is available at major bookshops worldwide or online through Amazon, Kobo, Google Books, and eBooks.com.