International schools in Hong Kong are reopening after three months with everyone wearing masks, desks spaced one metre apart, daily temperature checks, and half day sessions. Here’s what school life looks like during a pandemic…
As you'd expect, the government is taking a cautious approach to reopening all schools. So, international schools are opening for half days to start with, until they are given permission to open for the full day by the Education Bureau (EDB). There is a staggered approach to reopening with older students returning first.
All schools are following strict health and safety guidelines from the EDB, which include all parents recording their child’s temperature at home every morning; temperature checks on the school gate; desks spaced one metre apart in all classrooms; and masks to be worn at all times.
The English Schools Foundation, Hong Kong's largest international group, began its phased return a 50/50 split between ‘in school’ and ‘online, at home’ learning; only half of the student population will be attending class on any given day.
At one of ESF's secondary schools, West Island School, vice principal Clare Haworth said that she had most been looking forward to "connecting with the students again and the buzz of being part of a wider community". Haworth said the long period of distance learning had taught her to "be open and to adapt".
WIS Year 12 student Sula Hedley said that she was most looking forward to seeing everyone in person.
"Although online learning has been effective, nothing can really replace all the little moments of your day with friends, classmates and teachers, sitting at lunch or laughing in class discussions – really just that feeling of community."
And commenting on what she has learnt during her time away from campus, Sula said:
"Online schooling has taught me that learning doesn't necessarily have to conform to the regimentation of a regular school day; finding the mechanics of how to optimise my knowledge intake through what kind of food, exercise, and focus/break habits or structures work best for me personally – skills that will be useful into tertiary education and beyond.
"I've also learned to appreciate the value of a dynamic class environment in developing ideas - forcing students to critically evaluate and continuously reform our own understandings."
At Hong Kong International School (HKIS), Grade 5 students were the first to return to campus with two half-day sessions. Upper primary principal Ben Hart said: "Kids had the first day of school jitters that we usually see in the fall. It took them some time to warm up, but they were happy to be back."
A Grade 4 student said after his first half-day session, "It was awesome. We didn't do any learning like we did at home. It was all social!"
While a Grade 8 student said: "It was strange. Sitting at individual desks and not being able to interact the way we usually do. It's just weird."
And a HKIS music teacher described the experience of welcoming some students back to campus while continuing to teach others who opted to continue with Zoom classes from home. "It was fun to see and hear real, live, students for a change. It certainly was music to our ears! This was the first time we tried teaching live in a classroom, with students still online. It was surreal and yet another new experience. "
At Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, Years 4 – 6 were the first to return in a phased reopening of its campus.
Principal Ben Keeling said:
“The journey of extended suspension has proven enormously challenging for parents, but we reflect positively upon the way in which our community has drawn together, despite the evident strain. We approach this new phase both united and continually committed to a vision of great aspiration.”
Mount Kelly School Hong Kong resumed for Years 5-9 first, then Years 1-4 will return on June 1. Students attend lessons for three hours per day on core subjects; other subjects like PE continue to be taught online, as well as weekly assemblies. The school has also installed body temperature scanners on different floors of the campus, and student temperatures are checked before going into class.
The school added: "All table and door handles will be cleaned after every session, rooms sprayed after staff and children have left, resources such as reading books will be routinely cleaned and sprayed."