Hong Kong’s Education Bureau accused of double standards over Covid-19 rules

  • Local schools can open for half-day lessons beginning May 24, but international schools can apply for permission to hold full-time sessions
  • The EDB said relaxed measures are available to larger institutions that can social distance students while eating

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Some are accusing the EDB of double standards, since International schools may be able to open for full day lessons, while local schools can only do half day sessions. Photo: SCMP / Nora Tam

Following an announcement from the Education Bureau on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s international schools can apply for permission to resume full-time, on-campus learning this month, drawing complaints from their local counterparts which will only be allowed to operate on a half-day basis.

The city’s kindergartens, primary and secondary schools will be allowed to reopen for half days beginning May 24, regardless of whether teachers undergo regular Covid-19 testing.

However, some international schools are being allowed to run full-day sessions, based on their facilities being suitable for social distancing, leading some in the local sector to accuse officials of applying double standards.

The French International School, one of the city’s top such institutions, told parents on Wednesday that the Education Bureau had given it permission to resume full-day, face-to-face classes from May 24.

Discovery College, a school offering primary and secondary education under the English Schools Foundation, is also expected to resume similar operations on the same date, according to an email to parents.

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The Education Bureau said the extra relaxation measures were available for international schools because they “generally have more usable space and facilities to implement precautionary measures to ensure adequate distancing of students”.

“If such schools have their own canteens or specified areas designated for meal purposes, flexibility may be granted for such schools to operate full-day sessions,” a bureau spokeswoman said.

One local secondary school principal said the rationale for the government move was “difficult to understand”, given that spacious campuses and ample space for students to have lunch is not exclusive to international schools.

“It is quite an inconsiderate arrangement,” the school head said. “For instance, we can also arrange for students to have their meals in the classroom [under social distancing].”

“Why can’t the Education Bureau allow all schools to at least apply for [full-day resumption]?” he said.

Another local kindergarten principal said she believed city schools were being treated unfairly, accusing officials of applying double standards.

“Many stakeholders would welcome more flexibility being provided to the local school sector,” she said.

The French International School currently allows students to return for half-day sessions. Photo: SCMP / Edmond So

Similar arrangements were in place when the coronavirus crisis eased in Hong Kong on two occasions last year, in May and September, when international schools were given the option to apply for full-day learning while most public ones were only allowed to resume for half days.

A mother with three children in the primary level of the French International School welcomed bringing students back for full-day classes.

“We really see the difference for our children when they have face-to-face education. It’s of course better to have interaction with their friends and with their teachers. Nothing will replace that, even with online schooling. Especially for young kids,” she said.

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The school is currently allowing students to return for half-day sessions, with teachers being screened for the coronavirus every two weeks, according to the parent.

“Whole days are important. They have missed a lot of school days … I feel that we are lucky to have that possibility at international schools, for kids to almost get back to a normal life,” she said.

The mother added she hoped the government would also allow local schools to resume full-day classes, as Hong Kong seemed to have the coronavirus under control and the city has not experienced any clusters in schools.

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