Most of Hong Kong’s universities will resume online learning for the coming semester as the city battles a third wave of Covid-19 infections, while education officials are mulling a phased reopening of primary and secondary school classes.
At least six of eight publicly-funded universities in Hong Kong announced this week that most courses in the first semester of 2020-21 would be conducted online, backtracking from earlier suggestions that face-to-face activities would resume partially or gradually.
Chinese University, Education University, Polytechnic University, Baptist University, Lingnan University and the University of Science and Technology have issued letters to students and staff on the decision to lean on online teaching for the semester from September to December.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Owen Au Cheuk-hei, chairman of Chinese University’s provisional executive committee of the student union, said he believed some students would be more disadvantaged.
“It is understandable that the university had to make such a decision ... But for some students who might find it inconvenient to join online lessons or discussions at home due to various reasons, they may find the new arrangements [more undesirable],” he said.
Orientation activities for freshmen at most local universities, which are usually held in August, would also be carried out online. Au said he expected some students to encounter more difficulties in blending into university life and making new friends.
Meanwhile, more than 10 school representatives held an online meeting with the education minister on Thursday to discuss options for reopening classes.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said on Monday that kindergartens and international schools would begin face-to-face classes no earlier than August 17, as the local Covid-19 situation saw “no sign of improvements” with case numbers surging.
Two sources told the Post that during Thursday’s meeting, school representatives suggested that senior secondary and older primary school students should be among the first batches to return to campus if the health crisis came under control.
They also suggested special arrangements should be considered for Form Six pupils at secondary schools who would be sitting for the university entrance exams, as well as for Form One and Primary One students starting their first year at a new school.
“Suggestions at the meeting included having senior secondary students back for full-day classes,” a source who was present at the session said.
The source also said some school representatives suggested half-day classes could be conducted for younger pupils at primary or lower secondary levels, as they were worried teachers might not have a chance to foster relationships with new students.
“For pupils undergoing a transition from kindergarten to Primary One, as well as from primary school to Form One in secondary school, if on-campus classes are allowed, they should also be given a chance to come back to school, even if just for a few days,” the source added.
Another source present at the meeting agreed. “Typically, Primary One students would undergo induction classes in late August which would usually last from two to three days, to up to a week. But given the local pandemic situation, it would not be suitable to hold these activities as usual,” he said.
The government is expected to only make a decision some two to three weeks before September.
In a reply to the Post, an Education Bureau spokesman said Thursday’s discussions were at an initial stage, adding that officials would also seek advice from health experts and closely monitor the development of the pandemic.
While local primary and secondary schools begin their year in September, many kindergartens and international schools generally start as early as August.
The English Schools Foundation, which runs 22 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools citywide, has announced that online classes for the new school year would be conducted from August 10 for at least a week until further notice.
Register to the SCMP Conversations: National Security Law webinar series and enjoy an exclusive 20% discount. Over the course of THREE WEBINARS, this series is designed for the global audience and will bring together corporate leaders, lawmakers, diplomats and academics from the East and West to dive deep into answering questions and the concerns of the global audience, while discussing what the law means for the future of Hong Kong and how it will impact global trade, economics and diplomacy. REGISTER NOW.