PTU News Reporter
The epidemic of coronavirus spreads throughout Hong Kong. Pro-democracy lawmakers have repeatedly demanded the government to close the border, but to no avail. The society is paralysed by fear as masks and disinfectants are all sold out. The education sector is faced with a significant challenge during this epidemic. Many principals and teachers reached out to PTU president and lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen to express their concerns and difficulties, including concerns about DSE, operation difficulties in kindergartens and tutorial centres, as well as the arrangement for class resumption. Ip has repeatedly communicated with the Education Bureau in different forms in the hope that the government would genuinely cooperate with the education sector, make an effort in understanding the education sector’s challenges, and support schools in prevention work with appropriate policies and resources.
Since the government announced the extension of the Chinese New Year holiday on 25th January, Ip has been receiving feedback from principals and teachers of all levels of schools, from universities to kindergartens. The comments concern the lack of masks and disinfectants on campus, the impact on all levels of examinations, financial and operational difficulties faced by schools and so on. Ip holds that schools still have a lot on hand even during class suspension. As there is no end of the epidemic in sight, schools need more than ever assistance from the Education Bureau.
Schools Lack Resources in Prevention
Government Should Coordinate Purchase
Despite the repeated demands from pro-democracy lawmakers to close the border so as to curb risks of spreading the epidemic, the government has only agreed to close part of the border. Hong Kong is thus still vulnerable to the virus. Citizens swarmed out to purchase masks, disinfectants, and bleach. Although the government announced financial aids for schools to purchase disease prevention products, schools reflected that the supply of such products is tight and purchase is difficult. Campuses must also be disinfected on a regular basis. Teachers and students who need to go to school must also be taken care of. The shortage of such products is truly worrisome.
Ip criticises the government for its reluctance to keep the source of the virus at bay, resulting in a shortage of disease prevention products in the market. Schools must arrange for students to continue learning at home during class suspension while making sure to disinfect campuses under the shortage of disease prevention products. The Education Bureau should take up a more proactive role and coordinate purchase of said products to ensure supply.
Class Suspension Causes Operational Difficulties
Tutorial Centres and Kindergartens might Wind Up
In view of the epidemic and to prevent the spread in districts, the government has not only requested regular schools to suspend class, but also tutorial centres and education centres. As a result, tutorial centres and education centres have had nearly no income in the past months, but are still subject to high rents and staff salary, making them the most vulnerable victims of the epidemic. In fact, many small-sized tutorial centres and education centres are based in districts and provide parents and students with day care services, tutorial, extra-curricular activities, and care for special need students. Ip states that the shutdown of such organisations would affect more than their employees. The services in districts would also be enormously impacted. Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced financial aids for many industries on 14th February, she failed to include tutorial centres and education centres. Ip, along with a few pro-democracy lawmakers and industry representatives, met with the Education Bureau in the hope of obtaining assistance from the government.
In regards of early childhood education, many whole-day kindergartens and long whole-day kindergartens rely on tuition fees to operate. Many nursery classes and private kindergartens are financially autonomous and rely on tuition fees, too. Kindergartens are concerned that, with the extended class suspension, parents would not be able to afford tuition and thus withdraw their children from the kindergartens, putting them in the same operational crisis. Ip, along with PTU Executive Committee members and kindergarten principals Kwan Suk-Ling and Leung Sau-Ting, called a press conference on 18th February, demanding the Education Bureau to provide assistance to the early childhood education sector. The Education Bureau listened and announced a one-off subsidy for kindergartens. Ip says that it was a right move of the Bureau, but worries at the same times that the measures are not comprehensive enough to help all types of kindergartens. He hopes that communication between the government and the early childhood education sector can be strengthened so that the government can better understand kindergartens’ situation and provide assistance accordingly.
People Should not Be Alone in Face of Epidemic
Government must Aid Education Sector
In face of shortage of resources, operational difficulties caused by class suspension, arrangement for class resumption and examinations, the education sector is confronted with a significant challenge. Yet, the government has yet to follow up. On all levels of the society, citizens can only rely on themselves in face of epidemic and have to purchase disease prevention products on their own. Some teachers who had to work during class suspension said it was difficult to buy masks. The PTU has sold a total of 1,500 boxes of masks in no time. The government must establish cooperation with all sectors of the society and respond to the society’s needs in terms of resources and policies. Prevention measures must be carried out by the society and the government together to minimise the epidemic’s impacts.