More than 300,000 Hong Kong primary and secondary school pupils finally met their peers and teachers for the first time since the new academic year began, as the opening phase of face-to-face class resumptions kicked off amid a sustained decline in coronavirus infections.
Children in Primary One, Five and Six; Form One, Five and Six; and kindergarten K3 returned to campuses for half-day classes on Wednesday morning with infection control and social-distancing measures in place.
They will be followed by pupils in Primary Two through Four, Form Two through Four, and kindergarten K1 and K2, who are expected to return to the classroom from next Tuesday.
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Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said Wednesday’s in-person class resumption was “mostly smooth”, while also urging pupils and parents to maintain good hygiene at schools as the coronavirus pandemic was still ongoing.
Schools in Hong Kong had suspended in-person classes for more than four months starting in early February, only briefly resuming for about one month before they were again forced to stop as the city’s third wave of Covid-19 infections ramped up in early July.
At Yaumati Catholic Primary School (Hoi Wang Road), hundreds of pupils were greeted by their principal and teachers at the school entrance before classes began at 8am. Mandatory temperature checks were required before they were allowed to enter the campus.
The school has installed partitions on desks in classrooms, as well as an ultraviolet device to sterilise books in the library and automatic hand disinfectant dispensers near the entrance. It also arranged for returning pupils to use different entrances to get to their classrooms.
“I’m happy but a little nervous to meet my teachers,” said Primary One pupil Chung Hei-nga, who added that her father had reminded her to wash her hands more often.
“It is challenging for her to get to know teachers and classmates through Zoom meetings, so we are excited for her to start,” father Raymond Chung said.
Some students were seen wearing goggles and face shields on their first day back at school, while school staff reminded those entering the premises to sanitise their hands.
Principal Polly Chan Shuk-yee said the school would be spending the first few days of in-person classes helping children adapt to the new environment.
“Even though we are happy the pupils can come back to school, it is still a pity things are not completely normal and they cannot have bigger group interactions,” she said.
In Salesians of Don Bosco Ng Siu Mui Secondary School in Kwai Chung, about 100 pupils arrived on campus before classes began at 7.55am.
Some 50 Form One children in their first year had previously joined an orientation programme earlier this week to familiarise themselves with the school environment.
Assistant principal Ricky Chan Chi-wai said pupils would be taking seven lessons, each about 35 minutes and lasting until 12.50pm.
Frank Lee, a Form Six student, who expects to be sitting the university entrance Diploma of Secondary Education exams next year, said he was “excited and nervous” to be back on campus after months of online classes.
“I’m quite worried about my learning progress and exam preparations,” the 18-year-old said. “When back on campus, I will treasure the time to ask teachers more questions and try to catch up.
“I’m especially concerned about the English language subject … where I need to improve my vocabulary and grammar.”
More than 400 pupils at YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College in Tung Chung also had a trouble-free return to campus, according to principal Dion Chen, who felt “positive” the next phase of students returning on Tuesday would be similarly smooth because many schools were fully prepared.
Chen, chairman of the Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council which represents 71 primary and secondary schools, also hoped the Education Bureau could further consider allowing in-person full-day classes to resume soon when the situation allowed.