Teachers shouldn't get cold feet on tests

Editorial | Mary Ma 11 Feb 2021

Students, parents and teachers alike can't wait to see normal classes resume - and the announcement that more students will return to schools for in-person learning after the Lunar New Year holiday is immensely welcome.

At the end of the day, online learning cannot substitute for formal face-to-face classes.

The government says schools will be open up to one third of their students after the holiday. In other words, school principals can arrange for student attendance to rotate so that every youngster can attend classes during the week.

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung also made it conditional that, should a school wish to reopen fully to all students, its teaching staff will have to get Covid tests every fortnight.

Such a practice is already implemented at selected workplaces, including care homes for the elderly, where workers need to be tested regularly for the virus. In principle, a similar practice should also be feasible at schools.

The bottom line is the sooner schooling can be back to normal, the more beneficial it will be for the students.

Teachers may have concerns about the coronavirus test but this should not come before our young people's need for proper education.

Again, it is a matter of balance. While nothing is ideal in this pandemic situation, we can only opt for the least disruptive of the evils.

With this in mind, it was concerning to read the findings of a recent poll by the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools.

It showed that only a very small number of schools have asked, or will ask, their teaching staff to take the virus test regularly despite the understanding that it would contribute to a greater sense of health safety at schools.

It is great that the number of students attending school is being increased from one sixth to one third after the holiday. But it would be even greater if all students could return to school at the same time, bearing in mind that the pandemic has already wasted too much precious learning time.

Everything must be done to stop the waste.

If the experience of testing care home workers regularly has proved to be a practical solution to an imperfect situation, it should also be extended to schools with similar resolve.

At the same time, teachers should understand the need to have this done. As said, it isn't ideal but this is the least evil choice before students, parents and educators.

Policymakers must make this their immediate policy objective even though the survey showed that school principals have been mostly lukewarm to asking their teachers to test regularly. Such tests, according to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, are voluntary.

While making such testing a requirement, policymakers should also make it as convenient as possible for teachers by allowing them take the tests at their workplace.

Students must be allowed to return to schools as soon as possible. This is the consensus of the society.

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