Coronavirus: school closures over infections impose venue change on dozens of Diploma of Secondary Education exam candidates

Chan Ho-him
·3-min read

Dozens of Hong Kong students from the first 3,400 candidates to sit this year’s university entrance exams were forced on Friday to take the tests in backup venues after the sudden coronavirus-related closure of at least two schools.

Exams were abruptly cancelled at Shung Tak Catholic English College and Ching Chung Hau Po Woon Secondary School in the New Territories following confirmation that a pupil at the former was infected and one at the latter was a patient’s close contact.

A total of about 100 Diploma of Secondary Education candidates were affected by the closures and instead had to take the day’s visual arts exam at Ho Ngai College and Tuen Mun Government Secondary School.

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Potential lockdowns, quarantine add stress to exam season in Hong Kong

At least one candidate, meanwhile, took Friday’s DSE assessment at the government’s Penny’s Bay quarantine centre under new arrangements introduced by the exam body this year.

Another two students were affected by mandatory testing orders issued by health authorities, as they were required to present negative results before they could enter the exam venues. One was able to take the assessment on time, while the other was late with no extra time given based on the exam body’s previous announcements.

Those encountering sudden changes of venue were among the more than 52,000 candidates sitting this year’s exams, which were postponed by about a month because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The written tests run until May 20.

The exams authority requires more than 400 schools hosting test centres to implement anti-contagion measures such as social distancing, mask wearing and temperature screening. Candidates whose temperature exceeds 38 degrees Celsius will be asked to leave and immediately consult a doctor.

Those unable to take the exam would be assessed based on how they performed in their school’s internal assessments, with the maximum grade capped at two levels below the highest on a seven-grade scale.

At Gertrude Simon Lutheran College, assistant principal Chan Yiu-fai said its exam hall accommodated about 40 students for Friday’s exam, down from the maximum capacity of more than 120 seats. Desks were placed about 1.5 metres apart.

With the school still holding half-day, in-person classes, Chan said pupils and candidates were entering and leaving the campus in stages for crowd-control purposes.

Most of the over 50 candidates at Ho Ngai College in Tuen Mun arrived more than half an hour before the exam began with the morning traffic mostly running smoothly.

The change of venue at late notice was an inconvenience for some candidates.

“I originally expected to take the exam at my own school, but was only notified about the change two days ago,” said Zita Mou, from Shung Tak Catholic English College in Yuen Long.

Mou, 17, said the new arrangement extended her journey time to the exam centre by half an hour.

Students have their temperatures checked before sitting a DSE exam at Gertrude Simon Lutheran College in Yuen Long. Photo: May Tse
Students have their temperatures checked before sitting a DSE exam at Gertrude Simon Lutheran College in Yuen Long. Photo: May Tse

Candidates were seen taking extra precautions against the spread of Covid-19.

Sharon Cheung, 17, said: “I am not too worried [about transmission risks], as everyone is wearing a mask in the [exam hall]. I will also maintain good hand hygiene.”

Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung earlier urged employers to allow flexible working hours for staff to ease traffic early in the day.

Hong Kong’s railway operator also said it would enhance MTR services across nine of its lines ahead of rush hour on exam days.

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