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Teachers and school leaders think a phased approach for the return to schools after the virus shutdown is best. Photo: AFP

Coronavirus: Hong Kong secondary schools should reopen first, say teachers, as younger pupils face prospect of Covid-19 shutdown until May

  • Unions and principals want older pupils to return first in staggered reopening of schools from April 20 at the earliest
  • Half-days proposed for primary schools when lessons finally resume, which could be in May

Schools in Hong Kong should reopen in stages when the coronavirus shutdown ends, with senior secondary pupils returning first in late April and some younger children staying at home until May, according to teachers and principals.

Older students would be prioritised for the return of secondary schools ahead of the reopening of primary schools, which could consider opening in the mornings only to reduce the contagion risk, under proposals from the biggest teachers’ unions and head teacher associations in the city.

The Education Bureau last month extended the suspension of kindergartens, primary and secondary schools – in force since the end of Lunar New Year on February 3 – until after the Easter holidays or April 20 at the earliest.

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The proposals came as Macau’s education authorities announced on Tuesday that most schools were likely to reopen before April 20 because the Covid-19 outbreak had stabilised there.

Those kindergarten, primary and secondary school principals who spoke to the Post said the Hong Kong education sector was in favour of senior pupils in secondary schools returning first in a staggered approach.

Two sources revealed the government would meet with primary and secondary school principals on Monday to discuss the arrangements.

The Education Bureau’s principal education officer Cynthia Chan Chin-woon told lawmakers on Tuesday that classes could resume in phases in April at the earliest, adding the bureau would consider the opinion of health experts and the availability of surgical masks before making a decision.

“We will also discuss with the education sector arrangements for class resumption,” said Chan. “Some schools have been doing preparations, including ordering masks from various channels such as from other countries outside Asia.”

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Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, told the Post that resuming classes in phases was preferred because it could allow schools to make better preparations and help students to adapt.

“Many secondary schools are preparing [their school premises as exam centres] for the Diploma of Secondary Education exams, which would begin from March 27, and then on the arrangements for resumption of classes afterwards,” said Tang.

He said there were still mask shortages at secondary schools because fresh supplies would only arrive from mid-April.

Wong Kam-leung, a primary school principal and chairman of the 35,000-member Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, also suggested that senior and junior secondary pupils should return to school first, followed by primary schools in early May.

“When secondary school students resume classes, primary schools could follow after approximately 14 days after that, starting from May 4,” he said.

Wong added that primary schools could cut the school day to avoid pupils eating and chatting with their masks off at lunch, which could heighten the risk of Covid-19, especially for younger children.

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So Ping-fai, of the Subsidised Primary School Council, believed primary school pupils could return in two batches, with Primary Three to Six back on campus ahead of their younger peers.

Honorary chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads Association Cheung Yung-pong said resuming classes in phases should be balanced against students’ learning needs, adding some were also concerned that a further delay could result in a shortened summer holiday.

Ivy Leung Sau-ting, a kindergarten principal and an executive committee member of the 100,000-member strong Professional Teachers’ Union, which represents about 85 per cent of the city’s educators, said kindergartens should be the last to return, which she added could come as late as mid-May.

She also said school hours at kindergartens could be considered to be shortened so kids would have relatively lower health risks staying at school.