- City’s second-largest teachers’ union and primary school heads’ group say classes can still get through the curriculum once things return to normal
- Students have been learning at home since the Lunar New Year break ended, with closure extended until March 16
A pro-establishment teachers' union joined primary school heads on Friday to call on the Hong Kong government not to postpone or cancel the summer holidays, after the education secretary mooted the calendar change.
The 35,000-strong Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, the city's second-largest teaching union, released a statement saying staff were absolutely able to finish the curriculum on time, through online learning arrangements currently in place.
"The federation opposes mandatorily postponing or cancelling the summer holidays. After classes resume, schools will decrease assemblies, tours and exchange programmes to guarantee students' health," the statement read.
Classes have been suspended for two weeks since the end of the Lunar New Year holiday, in response to the outbreak of Covid-19 in January. Earlier this week, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung announced a further suspension until March 16.
No pyjamas for online lessons, pupils on extended break told
The novel coronavirus which causes the disease has infected more than 64,400 people globally and claimed more than 1,350 lives, mostly in mainland China. Hong Kong had recorded 53 cases, with one related death, as of Friday.
The union said schools would cancel exams and switch to incremental assessments, and called on the Education Bureau to accept its suggestion to cancel this year's Territory-wide System Assessment to free up time for the completion of classes.
Honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association Cheung Yung-pong said principals were also opposed to the cancellation or postponement of the summer holiday.
"Throughout the class suspension, teachers are still working hard to come up with course materials and have managed to allow students to continue their learning," Cheung said.
"Both teachers and students look forward to the summer so they can take a breather, so there needs to be more discussion on how to make up for lost time," he said.
Cheung said it would be acceptable to delay the start of the holidays so the summer break would be shorter, but did not think it was appropriate to move the entire holiday back as it would affect the next school year.
During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, classes were suspended for 51 days and the summer holidays were only delayed by a week, Cheung said, adding: "As online learning is more developed now, there's no need to replace every single suspended school day."
Education chief Yeung said on Thursday he would consider the current online-learning arrangements when planning any summer break alterations.
Meanwhile, at least 700 tutors and tutorial centre heads have signed a petition demanding the government provide them with living expenses and rent subsidies after the government forced private education centres to stop classes as well.
"We are already using our private savings to pay our tutors' salaries and rent. At this rate, we can probably only continue for another two to three months," said Trevor So Tik-hei, a spokesman for the Education Centres Union.
The union said the city's 8,000 education and tutorial centres, which include special needs education centres, music, arts and sports schools and nursery schools, provided essential after-school care for low-income residents who were already struggling to balance childcare and work through the current class suspension.
So said the Education Bureau had directly contacted education centres either by phone or email and demanded they stop classes. They were told they would be breaking the rules if they continued teaching, he said, but no rules were specified.
The tutors demanded the government provide a living subsidy of at least half their current salaries to tide them over to the end of the outbreak, as well as subsidies to cover the rent for their teaching centres, which could run to up to HK$100,000.
"Of course we prioritise our students' health, but we hope the government can give us the choice to remain open, and we will take all the necessary precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus," So said.
Ip Kin-yuen, who representes the education sector in the legislature, said the centres' demands were "reasonable and based on facts", adding that his office had already received calls for help from tutorial companies since the end of January.
"I do not recall the private-tutor sector ever requesting government assistance, but this virus has clearly hit the economy hard. I will be putting in requests during the upcoming budget meetings to provide aid for hard-hit industries," he said.
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