The Education Bureau has announced that schools will remain closed until April owing to the coronavirus outbreak, though Form Six public written exams will take place as scheduled.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung told the press on Tuesday that classes would be resumed no earlier than April 20 and the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exam will take place on March 27 as planned. However, exams for Chinese oral, music, and physical education will be postponed to May and results will be announced a week late, on July 15.

A photo of HKDSE candidates in an examination hall. File photo: GovHK.

First detected in Hubei, China, over 80,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 2,600 have died from the SARS-like disease, including two in Hong Kong.

Yeung said that the HKDSE exams were crucial to students’ higher education and employment: “With enough preparatory work and protections, we believe the HKDSE exams can safely begin on March 27 as scheduled,” he said.

When asked by a reporter if the policy of continued school suspensions was at odds with the exams taking place, Yeung said that candidates do not have social contact with each other, so there must be different considerations for different class suspension and exam scenarios.

Kevin Yeung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

Candidates who display symptoms of respiratory infection will be prohibited from sitting the exam, Yeung said. He added that everyone should wear face masks inside the exam hall and use hand sanitizer provided by the venue.

See also: Possible delay in critical exams causing anguish among Hong Kong secondary students

He also added that seats would be spaced out and any candidates travelling from mainland China would need to arrive in the city two weeks prior to the tests in compliance with quarantine policies.

Distance learning 

With regards to the impact of class suspensions, Yeung said distance learning at home cannot completely replace in-person classroom learning. However, with the adjustment of school events and supplementary classes, he said there was no need to shorten the summer vacation.

“Extending the class suspension has been a difficult decision. Yet as the WHO [World Health Organization] predicted, the epidemic will last for a while and the Bureau thinks it is the safest decision to ensure the physical well-being of students,” he said.

Nearly 90 per cent of students surveyed by pro-democracy group Demosisto said they felt the disease had impacted their preparations for the exams. Fewer than 20 per cent found the online resources provided by the Education Bureau useful, they said at a press conference on Tuesday. The poll was conducted online amongst 11,466 Form Six students – representing a quarter of the 2020 HKDSE candidates.

Demosisto’s survey results press conference. Photo: Demosisto screenshot.

Isaac Cheng, vice-chairperson of Demosisto said that, in view of the epidemic, the Bureau should postpone the HKDSE exams for a month in the interests of students.

The Legislative Council Finance Committee passed a HK$3 billion anti-epidemic funding application last Friday with a portion covering a HK$3,500 subsidy for individual students during the suspension period.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.