As Hong Kong battles to contain a third wave of Covid-19 cases, the government decided in mid-July to keep all schools closed until August 17. But, with the number of cases continuing to rise, the government has announced that schools can resume classes – but only online.
Speaking at a press briefing on August 3, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said:
“It is anticipated that the epidemic will continue for some time, and may straddle the whole summer vacation. In view of the severity of the epidemic, all face-to-face classes and on-campus activities will have to be suspended until further notice, and schools may switch to other modes, including online learning, to let students study at home.
“When the epidemic subsides, we will announce the dates and the arrangements for class resumption as soon as possible.”
The majority of kindergartens and international schools in Hong Kong start their new academic year in August, while most local primary and secondary schools return in September.
Some international schools were already planning to start term with a return to distance learning. These include all 19 kindergartens and schools run by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), Hong Kong’s largest provider of international education, which are due to start Term 1 on August 10.
In a letter to parents, ESF’s CEO Belinda Greer said: “We do intend to start the new school year as planned from August 10 – but all classes that week will be delivered online. Students should not attend their school that week.
“Our schools will be working hard over the next couple of weeks to put in place specific plans to ensure that we can get students settled into their new classes – or indeed their new school – and be ready to engage in their learning. We know how important the early days and weeks of a new term are, so rest assured we will be giving it our full attention.”
It is yet another setback for schools and students in Hong Kong, which have faced a turbulent 12 months. First, classes were suspended for up to one week in November 2019 due to protests across Hong Kong. Then, all campuses were closed from the end of January due to Covid-19 and all classes switched to distance learning; they reopened from late May with strict social distancing measures in place.
The latest decision to close campuses strikes another blow for kindergartens across Hong Kong, Many kindergartens are small, often standalone businesses, already competing against schools that can enrol students from as young as six months – and the challenges of delivering distance learning are far greater when it comes to pre-schoolers. The government has previously offered relief measures to support those kindergartens in difficulty, but will they need more?
Could we see a large number of students drop out of kindergartens if they do not reopen their campuses soon? And could this lead to a rise in the number of kindergartens being forced to close down?
Speaking at today’s press briefing, Yeung said that the Education Bureau is closely monitoring the situation. He encouraged kindergartens to deliver distance learning, “maybe through some reading or some very simple worksheets”, and urged parents to “continue to engage their children in kindergarten education”.
“In the past few months, we have heard there were kindergartens facing great difficulties, so we have implemented a number of relief measures and packages to help them get through. So far we did not see very significant increase in terms of the kindergartens closing down in the past few months.
“If the Government has to implement other measures to help the whole community as well as different sectors, we will of course consider the impact on the kindergartens and see whether any further relief measures will be necessary.”
Will your child be starting a new school in August? How do you feel about the return to distance learning for the new academic year?
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