Hong Kong’s key public exam will go ahead in late April after a drop in the number of coronavirus cases in the city, the government announced.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung announced at a press conference on Wednesday that the Education Bureau had approved for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) written examinations to be held from April 24 to May 25, with assessments for the four core subjects to be held from April 27 to May 5. Physical Education and Music exams will take place in May and June, with the final results set to be released on July 22.

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File photo: RTHK Screenshot.

The Education Bureau said two contingency plans were in place in case of another disruption to HKDSE due to a spike in Covid-19 infections. It said it would postpone affected exams to May 22, with results released in mid-August, or delay exams until June 11, with results released at the end of August, if the outbreak continues.

University admission and term dates may be delayed accordingly. In-hall exams will be cancelled and HKDSE results will be substituted with assessments of the performance of candidates in school, if there is no improvement in the number of infections by June.

Yeung said HKDSE is the only widely-recognised local public exam for students to take to conclude their six years of secondary school education: “Mainstream opinions suggest that it is in the candidates’ best interests to hold the exams as soon as possible, given the outbreak is safe.”

Schools have been closed since late January in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. First detected in Hubei province, China, nearly 2 million people have been infected with Covid-19 globally, whilst over 126,500 have died, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Anxious candidates

Pro-democracy group Demosisto, student collectives Secondary Students Strike 2019, Demovanile and Ideologist HK on Tuesday jointly held a press conference, alongside an HKDSE candidate and high-school teacher, to share the results of a survey on exam arrangements.

Over 90 per cent of respondents opposed plans to hold the exams as scheduled, according to the findings. The poll was conducted last Friday among 14,887 students from 456 schools, 70 per cent of whom were Form Six HKDSE candidates.

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Demosisto and student groups meet the press to release survey results on HKDSE arrangements amid coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Form six student and HKDSE candidate, surnamed Loh, said the previous postponement posed a great challenge to students’ mental states: “The exams were postponed with a week’s notice… we had to adjust our exam strategies accordingly.”

Eighty per cent of those who were against the continuation of exams selected four main causes for concern, including “the pandemic is not yet curbed,” “concern over another community outbreak,” “worry over hidden transmissions,” and “lack of confidence in the Education Bureau’s preventive measures against the virus.”

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Mr Loh, Form six student and 2020 HKDSE candidate. Photo: Demosisto, via Facebook.

Nearly 95 per cent of respondents said they thought preventive measures at examination centres would be insufficient, whilst 82.9 per cent said they would like the exams postponed even if it meant results and term dates were delayed.

Local media cited some students as saying they had received unclear and substandard surgical masks from the Bureau.

Loh quoted some of the complaints, saying: “Face masks distributed by the examination authority were said to have yellow spots on the surface. Some have even reported receiving expired face masks.”

Hong Kong students in HKDSE exam
A photo of HKDSE candidates in an examination hall. File photo: GovHK.

The Bureau said in response that the appearance and thickness of masks may have varied because they were obtained from different suppliers. “[The Bureau] also ensured the masks had not expired before distributing them to departments. HKDSE candidates may report to their schools if they find any masks received damaged or unclean.”

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.