Planning for ‘Back to School’
May 8, 2020
At the commencement of each academic year, we stage a series of ‘back to school’ meetings for parents to discuss our plans and arrangements for the coming year. It was therefore quite unusual to be invited by the Education Bureau (EDB) last week to attend a ‘back to school’ event in the last months of the current year. Along with a good number of heads of international and independent schools, I was invited to meet with the Secretary for Education, Mr. Kevin Yeung, to share thoughts and raise questions about the resumption of normal classes at schools in Hong Kong before the summer vacation. This week, Mr. Yeung followed up with a press conference at which he shared more detail about the EDB’s plans to re-open schools.
Overall, we have had a thorough and very helpful dialogue concerning the many challenges facing both schools and the EDB at this time. All concerned share an ardent desire to bring our students back to school and into the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so. However, we also recognize the challenges associated with resuming classes in so many schooling systems, each with its own expectations and considerations.
As we learned, within the Hong Kong Government, it is the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) that is currently evaluating the risks posed by COVID-19 to the general public and to children in particular, once schools are re-opened. There are many factors for CHP and EDB to take into consideration beyond the relatively straightforward question of placing our students into clean, well-ordered learning spaces. An adequate supply of the now ubiquitous Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is one such factor. Commuting to and from school, congregating during sporting activities and breaks, and gathering for the midday lunch break are among the many aspects of resumption that must be considered carefully.
Concerning the timing of any re-start of classes, the EDB has now advised that Private Independent Schools, of which ISF is one, along with international schools, may seek EDB approval to recommence classes in phases, starting on Wednesday, 20 May. This date is a week in advance of the recommencement date previously communicated for local schools, but it reflects the fact that schools offering non-local curricula are not participating in the Diploma of Secondary Education examinations that are due to finish on 25 May. Students in upper secondary grades (Grade 9 to 11) will be allowed to return first, followed by lower secondary (Grade 6 to Grade 8) and upper primary students (Grade 4 and 5). Our youngest students in the ISF Academy, in Foundation Year through to Grade 3, will be permitted to recommence classes in the final phase. These arrangements, however, are all subject to EDB approval.
On resumption, schools are being asked to offer half-day schedules on site to avoid the complications of catering, and to ensure that ‘social distancing’ remains in practice on school campuses. Assemblies or large gatherings will be discouraged at this early stage of re-opening. The normal health precautions that have become very much a part of our lives – face masks and frequent hand sanitizing – will be practiced. All parents will be asked to record the body temperature of each child on a daily basis.
We hope to be able to finish this academic year with a sense of closure and plan for the coming year with renewed confidence and optimism.
As I mentioned in my recent coffee morning, we are also keenly aware of the potential constraints on the movements of ISF families during the summer months. As quarantine measures remain in place in many countries around the world, and with the potential for border closures at short notice, most families will be contemplating a summer in Hong Kong. Subject to the EDB allowing schools to remain open,
we have chosen to commit ourselves to an extensive, balanced, and varied range of optional courses and activities for all ages during this coming summer aimed at ISF students in both Primary School and Secondary School.
These programs are all optional and will therefore not cover core course content; they will offer language enrichment, study skills development, and physical activities. Details of the various programs are included in this week’s whole school circular. There will be an online registration process. All summer programs led and delivered by ISF teachers and staff will be offered free of charge.
We remain grateful for the understanding and support of the ISF community through these challenging times. We look forward to seeing you all coming ‘back to school’ in the very near future!
Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School