Many of Hong Kong’s international schools and kindergartens, some just weeks away from reopening, would see the start of their new school year delayed amid the city’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, the education minister announced on Monday.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said at a press conference that the schools would begin classes no earlier than August 17, as the pandemic had shown “no signs of improvement”.
Their reopening dates would depend on the development of the health crisis, he said, with schools being given at least two weeks notice to prepare.
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“We hope schools can resume classes as early as possible, but we cannot risk students’ health under the current situation,” Yeung said.
He added that most of the city’s 27,000 cross-border students – Hongkongers who commute from the mainland – would likely be unable to return to class in the coming school year.
Only about 2,500 cross-border students in senior secondary, who were able to enter Hong Kong with quarantine exemptions under existing arrangements with mainland Chinese authorities, might be allowed to return.
While most local schools begin their year in September, classes at many kindergartens and international schools typically kick off as early as August.
For local schools, Yeung said education officials would continue to assess the situation with the aim to reopen them in early September.
He said officials would also discuss with the education sector over the coming weeks about whether classes should resume in phases, and if half-day classes should continue, to reduce infection risks.
On-campus classes in Hong Kong were suspended in early February because of the pandemic, and only resumed in phases from late May.
At the English Schools Foundation (ESF), the city’s largest international school group with 22 schools across the city, classes were initially set to begin from August 10.
The foundation sent a letter to parents saying they would meet Education Bureau representatives on Wednesday to clarify whether online learning at home before August 17 could take place.
[Parents] expect that the new definition of school may mean online, Zoom lessons. Even that is better than not having any school at all
Ruth Benny, Top Schools consultancy
Ruth Benny, founder of private schools consultancy Top Schools, believed many parents with children in international schools would feel “displeased” if online lessons could not be conducted before August 17, which would be “not ideal for their kids’ well-being”.
“[Parents] expect that the new definition of school may mean online, Zoom lessons. Even that is better than not having any school at all,” Benny said.
“Let’s not forget parents have been paying very high [tuition] fees ... Schools should be able to resume online even if they are not able to resume in-person classes.”
In a reply to the Post, a bureau spokeswoman said flexibility would be considered on a case-by-case basis for schools that planned to hold online lessons before August 17. This would be based on their proposals submitted to the authorities.
At kindergartens, the new term for many pre-nursery classes – those which are non-compulsory for two-year-old children – usually begins in early August, according to principal Leung Sau-ting.
Leung, also an executive committee member of the Professional Teachers’ Union, warned that many children might drop out of pre-nursery classes in light of the new delay, thus affecting many private kindergartens financially.
Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said he believed whether local schools should resume in September should depend on the local health situation.
“As schools should have sufficient antiseptic and protective materials by now, the main consideration should be whether there are community outbreaks,” he said.
Tang said if online lessons resumed in the new school year, he expected teaching progress to be further delayed. But he also added that schools should be able to improve their teaching methods given the experience gained from conducting online lessons over the past few months.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong third wave: authorities weigh lockdown after 73 new Covid-19 cases reported
- Coronavirus in China: Hong Kong may pay higher price than mainland cities in long term, expert says