The Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung has said that all secondary school public exams scheduled before March 27 will be postponed over public health concerns.
There have been over 28,000 confirmed infections and 560 deaths worldwide, including one in Hong Kong according to official figures. The novel virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, and resembles the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Yeung said at a press conference on Thursday that schools would only resume teaching on March 2 at the very earliest.
He said that, during the SARS pandemic in 2003, public exams were still carried out – however, student safety had to come first: “[W]e have to consider the importance of public exam results for these students to further their studies in Hong Kong and overseas,” he said. “We have little room to postpone the exams [for long].”
Yeung said the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams, the music and physical education exams this month, as well as the Chinese language oral exams scheduled to start on March 11, will all be postponed untill May.
The government will make a decision at the end of February over whether to postpone other exams, and there are two plans to choose from, he said.
The results of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam are important as they dictate whether local students can enrol at universities.
The first plan would be to begin exams on March 27, with the announcement of results postponed by a week until July 15. The second plan would be to delay all exams for four weeks and cancel oral exams for language subjects. The exams would be completed on May 25, and the government would aim at releasing the results within July.
Yeung urged students to stay at home, avoid crowded places, cancel interest groups and private tuition classes, as well as overseas trips.
Asked by reporters if students should prepare for oral exams at all – since they may be entirely cancelled – Yeung said students can decide in accordance with their own skill level: “The revision strategy for each student is different,” he said.
Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority So Kwok-sang said students’ temperatures will be measured at exam sites and they will have to declare their health and recent travel situation.
Students will have to wear masks at exam sites, and the Authority will provide them to exam invigilators too, he said.
Students who had fever or signs of respiratory infections should not go to exams, So said. Exam invigilators will ask students whose temperature is over 38 degrees Celsius to leave, he said.
“If students refuse to cooperate, or make untrue declarations, we will consider punishments or even cancel their qualifications, in accordance with relevant exam rules,” he said.
Secretary Yeung also said the government was considering providing a special subsidy to buy medical supplies for kindergartens under the official Kindergarten Education Scheme.
Permanent Secretary for Education Ingrid Yeung urged schools to switch to online teaching during the class suspension period.