Coronavirus outbreak: Hong Kong students wish they were in school, not at home, despite virus fears


Many are worried about upcoming HKDSE, IB and other public exams, and some believe the prolonged class suspension is unnecessary

Joanne Ma |

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Secondary students in Hong Kong wish to go back to school. While some understand there’s a need for the prolonged class suspension due to the current coronavirus outbreak, others think it is unnecessary.

Yesterday marked the original back-to-school day after the Chinese New Year holidays. But in light of the ongoing epidemic, classes have been suspended by the Education Bureau until March 2. They were initially postponed until February 17. If the current situation persists, there is a chance schools will remain closed even longer.

James Chew Ching-hei, a 16-year-old student at Logos Academy, told Young Post he had not expected schools to stay closed for so long, but ultimately thought it was for the best. “We’re in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, so naturally, classes should be suspended.”

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Recently, student groups like Inspidemia and Students Connect have called on the government to suspend classes indefinitely. James said this could be problematic, as thousands of students are supposed to take public exams this year. “It would cause a huge problem to our university admissions if we didn’t get to learn everything before the exams,” he said.

“Yet if the situation worsens, an indefinite suspension would make sense. The exams should then be cancelled or postponed, too, because exam venues are packed with candidates and that would increase the risk of infection.”

James said he missed hanging out with his classmates, because he had planned to make the most of his final months at school before graduation.

“My life is kind of boring now. I’m afraid to go outside, and I also can’t meet up with my friends,” he said. “Although we have less physical contact, we have formed some study groups to revise for [our IB exams] together over the phone.”

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Not everyone was quite so forgiving. Charlotte Fong, a student from International Christian School, said: “Honestly I think suspending classes until March 2 is unnecessary, so calling for an indefinite suspension is all the more so. [Authorities have overreacted], since the disease hasn’t taken root in Hong Kong and the situation seems under control.”

The 17-year-old also did not expect the suspension to last this long. She thought keeping schools closed until February 17 was reasonable, but had not expected the closure to be extended.

A day in her life now consists of working on online assignments, reading, and playing football, “much like any other holiday”, she added. Students at her school are able to go to the campus, but she did not know anybody who did.

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Cadence Kwok, a 14-year-old student at Marymount Secondary School, long imagined that the suspension would go beyond February 17.

“I expected it, because there have been more and more reported cases of the Wuhan coronavirus recently, and it’s safer for students not to gather at school, to prevent infection,” she said.

However, she still hoped she could return to school as soon as possible because there wasn’t anything else for her to do at home except homework, which she did online.

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The Education Bureau sent a letter to schools last Friday saying that they should remain open during the class suspension period. Schools were also advised to allocate enough staff members to take care of students who needed to come in, to deal with administrative work, and to answer parents’ enquiries.

Joanne Yu, an English teacher at Lai King Catholic Secondary School, said their campus was open for students and that teachers were taking turns to work at the school. “Every day, there would be about five to six teachers, two office clerks and two to three janitors at school,” she said.

As for how they are covering the syllabus, she said: “We’ll teach online and are currently busy preparing the exercises. 

“We send the teaching materials to students through Google classrooms.”

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An English panel head at a local school, who wished to remain anonymous, said his school was open for students who wanted to come to the campus. “Not all staff have to be on duty. There are only around 10 teaching staff who have been assigned to come in from Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 4.30 pm,” he said.

As far as he knew, students still had to submit their English homework after watching videos posted online.

Weda Bory, an English teacher at Hong Kong International School, said no student or staff member was allowed on campus, and that they had set up home learning using virtual platforms. For example, students could access pre-recorded lectures online, while teachers have also set up real-time group chats to answer students’ questions. Assignments are uploaded to the platform and the teacher would make the assessments, she added.