No class but learning should continue

Editorial | Mary Ma 7 Feb 2020

I was utterly bewildered to hear Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung speaking entirely about what his branch of government may be doing in respect of the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination or primary six school-based tests.

Of course, he has to sort out these arrangements in order not to confuse students who, on one hand, have to help their working parents scramble for masks and, on the other hand, cope with the exam uncertainty.

But there's one more thing I've been waiting to hear from him.

Yeung is fully aware that learning has been badly disrupted this school year. That is due, first, to the civic unrest stemming from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's now-shelved extradition bill and, second, the spillover of the Wuhan virus from the mainland into Hong Kong.

How many months have classes already been suspended during this turbulent period - a third of the school year? It is certainly going to be more than that. As the virus epidemic is still spreading, half of the school year will be lost - and that is still on the optimistic side.

Has the education chief ever taken the lead to seriously fill this vacuum so that students can continue to learn even if they cannot return to their schools? That's no less crucial than making special arrangements for public exams.

I understand that some schools have been doing their best to bridge the gap, knowing that they may not be able to reopen the classrooms anytime soon.

For example, teachers at the English Schools Foundation's Island School has been working diligently of late to create a virtual classroom environment so that the adored princes and princesses still have to get out of bed in the morning - just as if school had not suspended at all.

Students are required to log onto Google Classroom to keep on learning as if they were in a real classroom.

Each student's attendance is checked, their interaction with class teachers is noted and course work is given out with instructions on when it should be submitted.

Understandably, it would be easier for some schools with more resources than others to switch to an e-learning environment. Nevertheless, this is exactly the kind of effort that Yeung should have promoted vigorously for all schools. And he should have prepared a plan to help those schools that encounter difficulties in making the switch.

Yeung should have spared a large part of his energy towards this end instead of dwelling entirely on "what if, what may."

Mainland schools have been suspended also and their situation is far more serious than those in Hong Kong. Yet, the Ministry of Education has asked schools to do whatever they can possibly do to keep students busy with online learning.

Like the case of the ESF school, students in some mainland schools are given a weekly timetable from 8am to 4pm.

I'm sure most of our schools in Hong Kong can do the same - as long as the education secretary is prepared to play a leading role.

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