As Hong Kong enters university exam season during coronavirus pandemic, students fret over sudden lockdown orders and officials set up special rooms at quarantine camp

Chan Ho-him
·4-min read

Hong Kong’s secondary schools are preparing to hold university entrance exams this week amid Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, with at least two students set to take the tests at government quarantine facilities under new arrangements.

Some students admit to feeling more pressure this year because of the latest infection-control measures, including concerns over being caught in the middle of “ambush-style” lockdowns and arriving late.

“This exam is very important because it is a turning point of our lives and it would be a loss if we were unable to participate,” said 19-year-old Yuan Ying-shan, a Form Six student at Lee Kau Yan Memorial School in Kowloon.

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Yuan said she originally hoped to receive her vaccine shot before the tests, but bookings for those aged 16 to 29 only open on Friday, the day exams begin.

More than 52,000 teenagers will sit the Diploma of Secondary Education exams – which were postponed for one month because of the pandemic – with about 3,400 visual arts students sitting the first test. The sessions will run until May 20.

Under new arrangements by education authorities, quarantined students can take the exams in any one of dozens of rooms set aside at the Penny’s Bay isolation facility. Invigilators will supervise from outside and the process will be recorded on video. At least two students had applied for the special treatment as of Wednesday.

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In cases where teens are held up at home because of a mandatory testing order for their residential building, they must obtain a negative screening result before entering the exam hall at school and will not receive any extra time. Anyone with a temperature higher than 38 degree Celsius will be ordered to leave and consult a doctor.

Students who miss out on their session can ask the exam authority for an assessment based on their school grades, but the score will be capped at 5, two levels below the highest.

At Lee Kau Yan Memorial School, vice-principal Keith Chui Hiu-ki said the hall being used for the exams could accommodate 81 students, with desks placed about 1.5 metres apart. The hall will be divided into three zones for crowd-control purposes, with different toilets and departure times for each area.

The exam hall at Lee Kau Yan Memorial School in Kowloon. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
The exam hall at Lee Kau Yan Memorial School in Kowloon. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“School staff will clean and disinfect the seats and desks even during sessional breaks between different papers on the same day for infection-control purposes,” said Chui.

The school also has about 100 sets of disposable gowns and face shields for staff members tasked with disinfecting any area where a student falls ill and is sick.

Wong Ka-hei, a 17-year-old Form Six student, said his studying regime had been seriously affected by the months of suspension of in-person classes over the past year.

Students taking the exam in quarantine at Penny’s Bay will be videotaped under special arrangements by the exam authority. Photo: Handout
Students taking the exam in quarantine at Penny’s Bay will be videotaped under special arrangements by the exam authority. Photo: Handout

“At home, it is difficult to concentrate to learn and study given various distractions, when compared to the school environment,” he said. “Even when face-to-face classes resumed, because schools are only allowed to hold half-day sessions, there was [less time] being spent on campus.”

A study released by the Hok Yau Club youth guidance organisation on Sunday showed students’ stress levels were at their second-highest point, 7.6 out of 10, since the exams were introduced in 2012, with respondents saying the pandemic was affecting their motivation and concentration.

“Even if all of the syllabus has been covered … further preparation is much needed for better foundation before the exams take place,” Wong added.

Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Wednesday urged employers to allow flexible working to ease the morning rush hour, especially on days when more students were taking the exams.

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