International schools are reopening for on-campus tutorials and assessments, and the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) has extended coursework deadlines. These are the exceptional measures being taken by the Education Bureau, international schools and the IBO to support IB and A Level students in Hong Kong.
The 2019-20 academic year has had more than its fair share of disruption. First, classes were suspended for up to one week in November 2019 due to the ongoing protests across Hong Kong. And, last week, Hong Kong's Education Bureau (EDB) extended the closure of all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong by two weeks until at least March 16 – in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
While the school closures are widely accepted as a responsible move to safeguard students and teachers against the spread of COVID-19, there are valid concerns that students are losing at least a month’s teaching. During the closure period the EDB has urged schools to "make good use of e-learning”, and this is widely being adopted using Google classrooms, vodcasts and other online platforms.
In the international schools sector, the students most affected by the ongoing closures are those studying international curricula exams including IGCSEs, A Levels and the IBDP. These students sit their final exams in April, May and June, and have coursework deadlines from March onwards.
This week, the EDB announced that schools can reopen their campus to graduating students – those studying GCSEs, A Levels and the IBDP – for tutorials and assessments. The EDB has made it very clear that students of all other grades should study at home. The EDB recognises that the school closures “have great impact on students in Hong Kong” compared to their peers sitting the same exams overseas.
A statement by the EDB says: “In this regard, if schools have put in place all necessary preventive measures and allow parents to decide whether to let their children return to schools, the EDB has no objection for schools to flexibly arrange the graduating students sitting for the imminent international public examinations to attend the necessary tutorial sessions and assessment activities.”
Following the EDB's announcement, the English Schools Foundation (ESF), which is the largest provider of international education in Hong Kong, has reopened its secondary campuses to its most senior students. This will affect students at Sha Tin College, South Island School, King George V, West Island School, Island School, Discovery College (DC) and Renaissance College (RCHK).
The ESF says: "Year 13 students in ESF schools who are required to complete time sensitive internal assessment may return to school. Our health and safety requirements are stringent with utmost care to ensure appropriate conditions for students to work, with group sizes kept to a minimum. This has been approved by the Education Bureau to ensure that students are keeping up with progress to fulfill the requirements from the IBO.
"This option may also be extended to Year 11 IGCSE students if necessary, who have been continuing their exam preparations via online lessons during the school suspension period."
Other international schools are also re-opening for college and sixth form students. For example, Kellett School will hold small group tutorials for its upper sixth students preparing for their A Level exams in May from next Monday (February 24). GCSE and A Level students at the school have already started returning to the Kowloon Bay campus to work on their coursework for art, design and technology, media and drama.
Mark Steed, principal and CEO at Kellett School, said: "We are putting measures in place to ensure that they remain in small groups whilst in school in addition to the routine measures of masks, handwashing etc. Apart from the minority of students who are not in Hong Kong, we anticipate that most of the year will be in school. We do not envisage that many parents will object to this."
The EDB is also allowing international schools to open up as examination centres for IGCSE, A Level and IB exams.
Any school opening its campus to students must take preventive measures: everyone is required to wear surgical masks, for example.
The EDB says: “The EDB trusts that school management, principals and teachers, as education practitioners, will put the well-being of students as their prime concern and strike a balance between the needs of students for further studies and protection from the epidemic.”
The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) has responded to the COVID-19 situation by extending the deadline for IB e-coursework, which was due to be uploaded on March 15, to the later date of April 12. This four-week extension applies to IB students studying in Hong Kong, as well as Mainland China, Macau and Mongolia.
IB students may also be affected by the cancellation of their mock exams, restrictions on their ability to complete the Community Action and Service element of the IBDP, and the cancellation of Visual Arts exhibitions. The IBO will “continue to review deadlines as the situation unfolds”, but has no plans to change the May 2020 exam schedule.
The IBO says: “The IB examination schedule is a global schedule and therefore it would be unreasonable to change it for students who are not affected. Schools can opt to defer to a future session, transfer to an alternative school or organise an alternative venue where appropriate.”
There is no indication that the IBO and UK boards for IGCSEs and A Levels will delay the exam schedule for these students.
Will IGCSE and A Level exam schedules be extended?
Ofqual, which regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England, has issued this statement:
"We recognise that students, parents, schools and colleges will be concerned about the possible impact of Coronavirus on the 2020 summer exam series. Our advice at this time is to continue to prepare for exams and other assessments as normal.
"We continue to work closely with exam boards, other regulators and the Department for Education and we have met to plan for a range of scenarios, as the public would expect. Our overriding priorities are fairness to students this summer and keeping disruption to a minimum.
"It is still many weeks until exams start and we will issue updated advice if necessary, giving schools and colleges as much notice as possible."