Nearly 900,000 pupils across Hong Kong schools and kindergartens returned to the classroom on Tuesday for the first time in more than six months, the final phase of resumptions since the coronavirus forced campuses to close.
Children from Primary Two to Four, Form Two to Four and kindergarten K1 and K2 attended half-day classes across the city after a steady drop in infection cases, with those who spoke to the Post excited to be back at school.
Pupils in Primary One, Five and Six, Form One, Five and Six, as well as those in kindergarten K3 resumed classes from last Wednesday.
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Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said Tuesday’s citywide class resumption was mostly smooth despite some unstable weather in the morning, but it still remained to be seen whether it would be safe to let all schools resume on a full-day basis.
In-person lessons have been largely suspended at all Hong Kong schools and kindergartens since February, and while most grades briefly returned for about a month from May, schools closed again in July before the summer break because of the third wave of infections.
However, those children in kindergarten K1 and K2 have not been at school since the Lunar New Year holiday earlier this year.
At Ying Wa Primary School in Sham Shui Po, more than 480 pupils from Primary Two to Four returned for the first time, after the academic year began earlier this month.
Staff greeted children at the gate, while the school had also prepared warm-up activities for most pupils before classes began at 8am, including a mini-obstacle race set up by teachers.
Primary Two pupil Ethan Mak woke up just after 6am on his first school day, a bit earlier than usual.
“I’m happy because I can finally meet my classmates again. I think I can still recognise them,” the seven-year-old said.
Tobby Ng, a Primary One pupil who returned last Wednesday, said: “I am excited because … some Primary Four big brothers will lead us to tour around the campus today.
“None of my classmates came from my kindergarten, so I also am meeting new friends. I have made two friends so far [over the past week].”
The six-year-old’s mother, Erika Sin, said parents were also feeling relieved after being trapped at home for months with online learning in place.
“I was worried at first because it’s [his] first year in a new environment and a new stage, but the school’s preparations have been a relief,” she said. “[Children] have missed the opportunities for real-life interactions and group activities, which are important for them.”
Acrylic partitions have been installed on pupils’ desks in all 30 classrooms, while all of the children must undergo temperature checks before entering the campus.
“After returning to school, [teachers] will focus more on activities which could not be done online, such as dictation and discussions,” principal Sylvia Chan May-kuen said.
Most of the 27,000 cross-border students, Hongkongers living in mainland China, are still unable to return to the city for classes with mandatory quarantine arrangements still in force.
Dozens of K1 and K2 pupils at Sun Island English Kindergarten’s Belcher branch in Kennedy Town, aged about three to four years old, meanwhile, returned to school in smaller groups.
Principal Liu Lai-ching said each of the classes was split into two groups and pupils returned to campus at different times to minimise gatherings.
Annie Cabrillos, mother of a K1 pupil, said: “I’m really happy that the school has started. When [my son] was at home the whole day, it was really hard for us as parents … sometimes he got bored as he could not go to play dates.”
Some private and international schools have already been allowed to conduct full-day lessons with prior approval from the Education Bureau, on condition that they have their own canteens or specified areas for pupils to have meals.
At American School Hong Kong, more than 100 children in Grade One to Three became the last batch brought back on campus for full-day lessons, following resumption for Grade Four to 10 and kindergarten pupils earlier.
School director John Jalsevac said measures such as installing partitions on classroom desks and cafeteria tables had been adopted to reduce health risks, given that dozens of pupils could be having lunch at the same time.
Still, up to 10 per cent of the total student population of 330 were still stranded in their home countries when in-person classes began, said Jalsevac.
“We will maintain for a period of time some support to those students through e-learning. But we expect the students will be back within a month’s time,” he said.
This article Coronavirus Hong Kong: parents relieved, children excited as schools fully reopen after partial lockdown first appeared on South China Morning Post