Covid-19: How Well Are Hong Kong Schools Coping?

As Hong Kong’s international schools enter their sixth week of mandatory closures, we look at how online learning is being used to educate students, the cost of closing schools for at least 12 weeks, and how students are coping with the pressure of exams. There are lessons for schools around the world...
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

How are HK international schools delivering online learning?

A Year 1 student from Wycombe Abbey School, Hong Kong

Some schools are offering real-time online lessons, as well as pre-recorded instructional videos and interactive classes. One such app, used by many schools is Seesaw, a student-driven digital learning journal where children can share their work. Students can post their completed assignment by photo, video or oral recording along with comments and questions, and teachers can provide feedback and suggestions on the posted work.

Other apps include RazKids Plus for online reading in English; 階梯閱讀空間 (Stairway reading) for online reading in Mandarin; and Mathletics for online mathematics. Students are also using Google Meet (interactive meetings with individuals or groups); Google Hangout (for when students or parents need to ask the teacher questions); and Google Classroom (interactive classes).

At HKCA PLK School, students are spending two to four hours a day using these apps. HKCA PLK principal David Priest says: “We don't give out a daily schedule because some students need parental/technical support that can only be provided when the parent gets home from work, so teachers post a weekly grid of home learning tasks/activities that should be completed each week to allow for more flexibility.

“In order to provide a variety of different learning tasks and activities, we are making use of several online apps. However, at the same time we are conscious of trying to limit the amount of student screen time so include writing, games, PSPE mindfulness, and arts activities, as well as encouraging 'brain breaks' to be done away from IT devices.”

The English Schools Foundation (ESF), which runs 22 international schools and kindergartens in Hong Kong, says that “while classes may have been suspended on the school premises, this does not mean that teaching and learning will stop”. To deliver this promise, it has developed an online learning programme that it first activated when classes were suspended last November due to the riots.

Students in both primary and secondary education are now working online to a structured timetable of work that is similar to a typical school day; they are given what the school describes as “an appropriate amount of work to get through” and they have constant support from teachers.

Kevin Do Cao, a Year 13 student at ESF Sha Tin College, said: “Nowadays, I have the privilege to wake up a bit later than usual. Registration starts at around 8:30am, so I wake up at around 8:20am to log in to Google Classroom. Lessons continue as usual; we usually have five lessons a day and 60 minutes per lesson.

No time is wasted between switching lessons. After all, all lessons are online. This gives us a bit of time to stretch and go eat a snack.”
Wycombe HK HL
Examples of home learning by students at Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong

Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong’s iLearning Platform uses Microsoft 365, with all students set up on Microsoft Teams with different classrooms for each of their subjects. Homeroom and specialist teachers upload assignments, videos, audio notes and documents weekly. During the week, teachers arrange video conferences with small groups of pupils, and mark and provide feedback to pupils on their assignments.

Describing a typical day, Wycombe Abbey headmaster Howard Tuckett says: “Teachers come to school and film videos of new activities, story reading and conduct video conferences with small groups of pupils.

"They spend time uploading new assignments, marking submitted assignments and leaving written and audio messages to all pupils. Our teachers are getting more creative with technology and have been creating wonderful videos to help our pupil engage and to inspire their creativity.

“As our pupils are young and require some parental support to do the assignments, we understand that families may be out of town in a different time zone and/or parents working at home, we give the flexibility to families to do these home learning assignments at their own convenience and the time given for each task is longer.”

Stamford American School, Hong Kong has moved learning into a virtual space

At Stamford American School, Hong Kong, students have created websites that showcase their online learning, participated in interactive read-alouds to celebrate World Book Day, and conducted a variety of science experiments using household materials. Content can be downloaded at any time of day; additional live classes and daily teacher check-ins help to spike student engagement; and small group online tutorials are scheduled to bring together students in all grades.

Head of School Karrie Dietz said: “This has been a challenging school year for both families and schools alike, as the second school closure of the year is now stretching into mid-April and the concept of traditional in-class learning has been transformed into a completely virtual space.

“Innovation is part of the culture of the school, and education technology has always played a major role in our teaching and learning. We saw this challenge as an opportunity to engage students in meaningful ways online, and we are proud to see our community embracing this new mode of learning in such a short time.”

Online learning at The Harbour School

And at The Harbour School, a Pre-K to Grade 12 international school with three campuses on Hong Kong Island, students are once again using a virtual classroom initiative called VC@T. This online interactive learning platform was first launched during the school closures in November and is aligned to regular school schedules.

The school’s founder and principal Dr Jadis Blurton said: “Students complete assignments either via email, Google Classrooms or uploaded to their class intranet page, and use the Google Hangout function to learn about a new topic with others or have an opportunity to ask questions or work in a small group.

“Just as all classes have a set of class rules to follow when we’re in school, we’ve created Netiquette (that’s ‘Net and etiquette combined).

“For Prep to Grade 2, our younger students, teachers provided work by 5pm the day before so parents could print any work that may need to be brought home and the little ones could have greater support. We also record live sessions to be accessible to students who are not within an appropriate time zone."

In addition to online learning, schools are taking different approaches to supporting their families from a distance. For example, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong has a selection of its library books at the campus entrance where parents can pop in to swap books; teachers are making videos at locations such as the beach to teach geology; and Renaissance College Hong Kong is offering parents free access to thousands of educational resources on Twinkl for a whole month.

Next page: Is online learning working?

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