Schools reopening: Challenges and advice
Local and international schools in Hong Kong reopened their campuses at the end of May 2020, and have been operating on a staggered timetable since. According to a recent announcement from the Education Bureau (EDB) on 29 March 2021, more students of all schools can return to campus in a gradual reopening of schools. In this Pacific Prime Hong Kong article, we’ll discuss details of schools reopening, the challenges involved, and offer some advice to help with the transition.
Current COVID-19 update regarding schools reopening
Local and international schools in Hong Kong follow different curriculums. International schools, for example, end their academic year around the middle of July. After the Easter Holidays, all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools (including international schools), as well as tutorial schools in Hong Kong are permitted to arrange more students to return to campuses on a half-day basis in accordance with school-based circumstances. However, the number of students is capped at two-thirds of the school’s total number of students.
One main concern about reopening schools involves minimizing the risk of infection. All schools have been advised to offer half-day face-to-face classes for students of a specific individual grade level, alternating between all available levels at schools, which will help reduce the risk of spread and make it easier for schools to clean their premises. In other words, students attending morning and afternoon sessions must be from different class levels.
In addition, secondary schools can arrange for students to take examinations in person, but for no more than half a day (either in the morning or afternoon). However, primary school students are required to take their exams in the morning session. For kindergartens’ whole-day sessions, they are expected to arrange for students to come in either in the morning or afternoon. The EDB will consider allowing a half-day whole-school resumption for an individual school that can arrange for all its teachers and staff to take regular COVID-19 tests. Staff who have already taken two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination could be exempted from these tests.
COVID-19 vaccination programme arrangements
On 10 March 2021, an EDB letter stipulated that all school staff are considered as a priority group to receive COVID-19 vaccines. As a result, schools are encouraged to make flexible arrangements for their teachers and staff to take vaccines so long as the school operation is not affected. For instance, schools can put in place flexible working hours, or allow their staff to be absent from the schools for vaccination. Thousands of staff under the English Schools Foundation (ESF), Hong Kong’s largest international school group recently plan to undergo COVID-19 screening for the full resumption of face-to-face classes.
Best practices for the safe reopening of schools
Schools can only reopen once the new health and safety measures are ready, and they must adhere to the EDB’s guidelines on resumption under the COVID-19 virus. Some of these measures include:
All students and staff are required to wear a mask on campus, as well as on school buses.
Classroom seating structures will involve students sitting in single rows, with desks arranged in a “face to back” layout. Likewise, students will practice social distancing during any class activities and break times.
Shorter school days
Schools will resume five days a week with half-day sessions, though schools that are approved by the EDB can reopen for full days. Staggered timetables will prevent students from entering and leaving campus at the same time.
Advice for parents
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on expats in Hong Kong. Times have been tough with uncertainty, stress, working from home with children, and many other changes. While people want to return to normalcy, it’s important to remember to go about it in a safe way. The following tips can help parents and their children return to school safely and cautiously.
Parents should always check their children’s temperature before they leave for school. Schools should also have temperature checks set up at the school gate for anyone entering the premises.
It’s crucial for students to understand the importance of personal hygiene and hand-washing. Parents can help students practice both before returning to school. What’s more, parents need to monitor their children for signs of stress or negative emotions as they return to school.
Now more than ever, schools, parents, and students need to follow the guidelines in place to help make the transition as safe and smooth as possible.
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