Teachers and principals in Hong Kong have welcomed a move to suspend classes for two weeks as the city tries to tackle the further spread of the coronavirus, but urged education officials to provide better protection once classes resume.
As part of the contingency measures announced on Saturday afternoon, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said classes at secondary schools and all grades below would be suspended until February 17 due to the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.
As the deadly disease continued to spread, reaching many countries around the world and claiming more than 50 lives in mainland China alone, all eight public universities in Hong Kong, plus the Open University, also on Saturday announced extensions to their Lunar New Year break, not requiring students to return until February 17.
The Hong Kong government had been under pressure to call off classes after parents, teachers and principals looked to Macau on Friday where the casino hub announced a class suspension until February 10.
Chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools Teddy Tang Chun-keung said he trusted the government was doing whatever they could given the fast-changing nature of the viral outbreak.
But teacher Tin Fong-chak, vice-president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, said while it was a right move, it should have come earlier so that schools could have been better prepared.
"Now teachers will have to think about the arrangements during the Lunar New Year holiday," he said, adding it could make coordination difficult.
Lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, for the education sector, said the move not only affected schools but also other parties.
"Schools may have to contact other suppliers, such as school bus service providers and lunch suppliers," he said. "It would have been better if it was not done in a rush."
Both Tang and Tin hoped to see the Education Bureau take a step further and stock up on surgical masks, the price of which has been surging due to the high demand.
Tin said schools faced problems in providing both masks and sanitisers as they had limited supplies.
Tang said schools were currently left to fend for themselves. He said his school ordered masks from a supplier in January, but was told that they would not be available until February.
He suggested the government set up a mechanism to supply protective gear to schools.
Ip urged the government to take this time period to brainstorm whether there should be a declaration system for schools to report pupils who had visited China during the Lunar New Year.
Classes were suspended in November last year as a result of a wave of anti-government protests, making the present suspension the second of the academic year.
Tang said the latest suspension would impact students facing their university entry examinations this year most, as many were supposed to sit their final mock exams in February.
Some schools may have to squeeze two exams in one day, he said, as opposed to one for each day, to make up for the time.
"Some school may even allow students to take home their assessment," he added.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung urged schools to cancel examinations for other grades and turn to online learning instead.
Both Tin and Ip asked the education authorities to start planning ahead, if the contagious risk continued to plague the university entry exams, known as the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. The soonest exam would take place in less than two months' time.
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