Hong Kong international schools reopen after 4 months of closures

Richard Vanderpyl, the head of school at Christian Alliance International School, welcomes students back to campus on Wednesday.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Pupils at some of Hong Kong’s international schools finally returned to the classroom on Wednesday after nearly four months away because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Most students and their parents who talked to the Post said they were happy about the return to campus and were not worried about risks to their health, as they had confidence in the schools’ infection-control measures.

Under a phased class-resumption plan, international schools were the first to welcome pupils back because of their different curriculum and early summer break.

But for most of the city’s local schools, classes are only expected to resume from May 27, beginning with senior secondary students.

At least 53 international and private schools were given permission by the Education Bureau to resume classes in stages from Wednesday or Friday this week, while students at another 19 return to class next Monday, according to the government.

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Half-day classes were suggested by education officials to reduce social contact and avoid students having lunch together, but 31 schools have been allowed to hold full-day lessons after implementing special lunch arrangements, such as splitting lunch break into two sessions for more flexibility.

Among those to resume teaching in classrooms on Wednesday were Harrow International School Hong Kong, Li Po Chun United World College, Nord Anglia International School, and Christian Alliance International School.

At Christian Alliance in Lai Chi Kok, about 1,400 students were set to return in three phrases, beginning with pupils in Grade Four to Six on the campus for a half day in the morning, and Grade Nine to 12 in the afternoon.

“We will take every measure we can to make the school safe,” Richard Vanderpyl, the head of school, said.

“But if parents are still uncomfortable, they can keep their children home. We will provide resources for those students.”

To reduce the risk of infection, pupils will sit one metre apart in classrooms, and will not share stationery. The school has also installed new sterilised mats, thermal cameras and hand sanitisers for infection control.

The first lesson of the day would be a one-hour session for teachers to explain physical distancing and hygiene rules, and for students to share their experiences of learning at home, Vanderpyl said.

Students are also required to submit a health and travel declaration, and have their temperature checked daily.

Ayla Ip, a 10-year-old Grade Four student, said she was thrilled to be back.

“I'm happy to go back to school because I can see my classmates. I missed them,” she said.

Her father David Ip said it was good to see his daughter back at school.

“The school has done a lot to keep the kids safe,” he said.

“The half-day school arrangement means children will have more physical distance between each other.”

Ayla Ip (right), 10, a Grade Four student at Christian Alliance International School was excited to return to class.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Another parent, Elaine Chu, said she was happy and felt safe sending her two children in Grades Four and Six back as the school had communicated well with parents, with daily updates and regular video meetings with parents.

“I'm thankful that the teachers have been very supportive and showed great understanding during the e-learning period,” Chu said.

At United World College in Ma On Shan, a boarding school offering all students residence, dozens of its Form Five pupils were expected to return to campus on Wednesday afternoon, with the option to stay on campus in the residential blocks.

Principal Arnett Edwards told the Post that Wednesday would be an “asynchronous day”, with no official lessons, but with a session between students and tutors to know about their progress.

Blended learning would then be carried out as about half of their some 100 students in Form Five were not in Hong Kong.

He said students staying in the residential area would have to limit their commuting, while wearing masks at all times was only required in the academic section, but not the residential section.

Edwards said most pupils were aged above 16 and the school trusted their maturity.

“We have actually analysed the risks, for the local students, they would be living on campus, rather than some of our students can take two hours to travel to a campus … as long as we put the protection measures in campus, we feel that it’s the most important,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s biggest international school operator, the English Schools Foundation, welcomes senior students back from Friday, with most of its pupils returning on Monday.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.