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2020.3.25

Education work when all citizens
are engaged in the fight against the epidemic

Dear Members,

 

2020 is definitely an extraordinary year. Within the short span of just two or three months, the new coronavirus has become a ‘global pandemic’ and consequently, the world’s economic activities have gone into hibernation, classes have been suspended, and market squares have become dreadfully quiet.

In Hong Kong, we have all worked very hard in the past two months. To achieve ‘No class, Learning continues’, many of our teachers have been kept very busy, zooming in and zooming out, which has become the most extensive distance learning in the history of Hong Kong. A team of HKPTU teachers have also taken part in RTHK’s ‘Asking Homework Questions Online’ programme. ‘No class, Learning continues’ has, however, been an uphill battle and its effectiveness is definitely far below that of normal classroom teaching. During class suspension, the focus should, in the view of quite a number of friends, be self-learning. There are also fears that class suspension will result in teaching progress falling far behind schedule. In any case, we hope that this abnormal situation will soon come to an end and that we can return to the campus, with teachers teaching cheerfully and students learning joyfully.

However, when can classes be resumed? In view of another wave of the epidemic, the Government has announced that class resumption will be further postponed. A survey on teachers conducted by HKPTU reveals that two conditions must be satisfied before resumption of classes: (a) the absence of new confirmed cases for 28 consecutive days; and (b) schools must have an adequate stock of anti-epidemic materials. We look forward to the arrival of such a day.

The epidemic has also impacted the HKDSE. The first written examination has been postponed to 24 April. Postponement of written examinations is understandable. However, if the epidemic continues to deteriorate, there is uncertainty as to whether examinations can be successfully conducted. It is necessary that the authorities consider preparing a new contingency plan. Any further changes to the HKDSE will certainly have far-reaching consequences.

The epidemic has impacts on various fronts, the biggest of which is the economy. Many kindergartens were immediately confronted by the problem of the loss of students and parents’ refusal to pay school fees. We have fought for and successfully obtained strong support from the Government in its anti-epidemic fund, which has enabled many kindergartens to avert a serious upheaval. There are, however, still individual kindergartens and private schools that have not been able to fully get out of their predicament. Suffering even more are informal educational institutions such as tutorial schools and education centers, which have been hard hit both by the epidemic and Government's decision on compulsory suspension of classes. Others who suffer include part-time tutors assisting schools in extracurricular activities. We have met the Chief Secretary for Administration CHEUNG Kin-chung and asked for a second round of the anti-epidemic fund so as to tide them over the crisis.

In addition, we are concerned that many students of grass-roots families do not have computers and access to the Internet. We have also helped students stranded in Hubei and students studying overseas who were, amid the new wave of the epidemic, anxious to return to Hong Kong but encountered difficulties in procuring air-tickets. Students apart, we are in the process of assisting some schools that are experiencing great difficulties in cancelling or rescheduling study tours. Any progress will be reported to you.

Separately, I would like to mention the budget. This year's budget has partially responded to our request: distributing HK$10,000 to everybody and introducing a number of other relief measures. It is, however, baffling that whilst reducing expenditure on education on the ground of total expenditure being particularly high, the budget provides for a significant increase for the Police Force for enhancing manpower and equipment. We have asked the Government to restrain police brutality. We have also asked the Government to, soonest possible, submit again to the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, for consideration and approval, those documents – suddenly withdrawn earlier on – relating to proposals to improve the establishment of primary schools and proposals to improve the medical education programmes of a few universities. We have also urged the Government to continue to attach importance to education in the future, stressing that education is a continuous social investment and that suppressing education expenditure is a major blunder.

Although the epidemic is serious, I would sincerely urge every one of you to fulfill your duty as a citizen. If you have not yet registered as a voter in the education sector, I would urge you to do so immediately. I also hope that teachers will urge students to cherish their civil rights. Students can register as a voter under Geographical Constituency and under District Council (Second) Functional Constituency as long as they are 18 years old on or before 25 July 2020 and are permanent residents of Hong Kong. Registered voters who would like to report changes to their registration particulars, the deadline is 2 April and the deadline for new voter registration is 2 May.

> Voter Registration Form Filling Tool

> Registration and Electoral Office

Finally, may I, amid the epidemic, wish you and your family good health and happiness. If you have any comments, you are most welcome to email them to me at [email protected]

Complaints against teachers
being handled in a black box

Adjusting FC’s agenda to straighten out the establishment and salary structures of management staff in primary schools Meeting with the Tourism Industry Council to reflect the controversy over schools’ cancellation of study tours
Helping Hong Kong students
stranded in Hubei and those
studying overseas to return to Hong Kong
Snapshots Speeches

Complaints against teachers being handled in a black box

The Education Bureau indicates that it has, from June last year to the end of January this year, received 171 complaints accusing teachers of professional misconduct, most of which involved posting remarks of hate on then social media, using inappropriate teaching materials, and committing illegal acts. At the Legislative Council meeting on 18 March, I asked to know (a) the number of anonymous complaints; (b) the legal provisions or codes based on which the authorities consider complaints involving ‘remarks of hate’ or ‘taking provocative actions’; and (c) the progress of the handling of cases of appeals and reviews.

The reply of Secretary for Education YEUNG Yun-hung was, however, disappointing! He only stated that “most of the complaints were made by email with the complainants’ email address, but in some of the cases, it has not been possible to ascertain whether the complainants' names are genuine.” As regards the ‘criteria’ used for handling complaints, his response was also very vague, a situation which smacks of operating in a ‘black box’.

The maximum penalty arising from a complaint is revocation of a teacher’s registration. In Hong Kong, teaching is the only major profession in which a person’s professional qualification can be revoked by administrative officials acting on a complaint. How can the Education Bureau enhance its transparency of operation and safeguard teachers’ rights?

Adjusting FC’s agenda to straighten out the establishment and salary structures of management staff in primary schools

In order to tie in with the implementation of whole-day education in primary schools and the comprehensive pegging of all teaching posts at the APSM level, the 2018 Policy Address proposed straightening out the salary structures of Headmasters and vice-Headmasters of primary schools and improving the staffing resources of middle management.

The appropriation document was originally scheduled for discussion at a meeting of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council on 5 July of that year (agenda item 2 of that day, document number FCR (2019-20) 29). The meeting was, however, eventually cancelled and the proposal has not yet been implemented. Measures to implement that proposal have still not been put on the agenda of the Finance Committee of this year’s Legislative Council.

I wrote to the Chief Secretary for Administration on 11 March and urged that the agenda of the Finance Committee be reshuffled so as to enable members to, soonest possible, consider and hopefully approve the appropriation document. Once approved, the task force’s recommendation for comprehensively pegging teaching posts at the APSM level can be implemented.

Meeting with the Tourism Industry Council to reflect the controversy over schools’ cancellation of study tours

With the pandemic affecting the entire world and various countries and regions imposing entry restrictions, it was difficult for study tours to proceed as planned. I have received quite a number of complaints from schools in recent months, saying that travel agencies have confiscated substantial amounts of their deposits, and in the absence of transparency, imposed extra charges on schools.

I had a meeting with Mr Jason WONG, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong; Ms Alice CHAN, the Council’s Executive Director; and their colleagues on 20 March. They stressed that the Council would try its best to coordinate efforts to handle disputes between travel agencies and schools and that if schools are not satisfied with travel agencies’ arrangements, or find travel agencies having violated relevant guidelines, they can lodge formal complaints to TIC. If their complaints are established, they will, depending on their nature, be referred to relevant Committees for further processing. I will continue to keep in close contact with schools on the matter and will assist schools in their efforts to protect their legitimate rights.

Helping Hong Kong students stranded in Hubei and those studying overseas to return to Hong Kong

Amid the global epidemic, I received, in February and March, quite a number of cases seeking assistance. Among them were Hong Kong students stranded in Hubei and those studying overseas. They were unable to return to Hong Kong because of closures of borders and other reasons.

Recognizing that the students were all anxious to come back home, I raised urgent questions at a special meeting held on 19 February, and highlighted the problems faced by our students stranded in Hubei and the predicaments they were in. The outcome was quite good. I proposed arranging chartered flights to take back our people and students. This eventually materialized and during the process, officials kept me informed of developments in their efforts in helping students.

During the process of making logistical arrangements, I suggested to the Government that Secondary 6 students, small children and those in need of medical support should be among the first batch of our citizens to be flown back to Hong Kong. As regards our students studying overseas and those on exchange programmes in the US, Europe and elsewhere, I also liaised with airlines asking for additional flights for our students. I also circulated information about Hong Kong’s Economic and Trade Offices located in their areas so that they could, more promptly and directly obtain the latest information on logistical arrangements and seek assistance. I am most happy to see, in the past few days, many of our students studying overseas returning to Hong Kong safely. I hope that everyone will adhere to the rules of home quarantine and take good care of themselves amid the epidemic.

Arrangement for IMC meetings amid the epidemic

According to Education Bureau's guidelines, members of Incorporate Management Committees have to attend in person in order to be recognized as being ‘present’ at a meeting. On this requirement, I wrote to the Education Bureau at the end of last month and asked that flexibility be exercised during the period of the epidemic and that IMCs be allowed to conduct meetings via video or other online means so as to minimize the risk of infection.

Accepting my suggestion, Education Bureau indicates that the format of conducting IMC meetings can be flexible depending on the actual situation. Meetings can be postponed or conducted via telephone, video or other electronic means but it is important that the points discussed be recorded in detail and that the records and resolutions of meetings be confirmed by circulation. Attention should also be paid to the requirements in relevant provisions of the Education Ordinance, particularly those provisions stipulating that certain motions cannot be handled simply through the circulation of documents.

Online learning of children of
grass-roots families during the epidemic

Earlier on, I attended a press conference on a questionnaire survey report entitled ‘Online Learning of Children of Grass-roots Families during the Epidemic’ released by the Alliance for Children Development Rights. At present, more than 65% of the children of our grass-roots families encounter difficulties in online learning either because they do not have a computer or they lack the necessary hardware.

This is not simply a problem of ‘digital divide’. It will, in the long run, result in a ‘huge learning gap’. I hope that the Government can provide funding as soon as possible to help grass-roots families to buy suitable computer equipment and have access to the Internet so that their children can truly enjoy the same right to learning as other children.

The situation of our children with special needs amid the epidemic

In view of the epidemic, both rehabilitation training and assessment of children in special nurseries have been postponed. This will affect their long-term schooling arrangements. Earlier on, I joined a group of parents in a petition rally. Whether or not this group of children are given proper rehabilitation training will affect their opportunity to subsequently pursue primary education.

While students in mainstream schools can continue to maintain ‘No Class, Learning continues’ at home, students with special educational needs do need professionals to assist them in their studies. With their learning and rehabilitation training interrupted during class suspension, this will have serious impact on their learning when class resumes and on their subsequent academic progression. I would suggest the Government and the education sector provide these children, according to their ability and needs, with adequate training once class resumes and also during the summer holidays.

‘Grand-teacher’ zooming with you

Upon the invitation of Asbury Methodist Primary School’s Headmaster LAM Tak-yuk, I had an opportunity to share with more than twenty Primary 4 to Primary 6 students the work of Legislative Councillors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The students responded very enthusiastically. Within just 45 minutes, we were – apart from a description of a Legislative Councillor’s work at the time of the pandemic – able to cover a number of issues, including when classes should resume, whether additional lessons should be arranged during the summer holidays and the package of support needed by students for online learning. Headmaster LAM was a student of mine. Introducing me right at the start of a zoom meeting, he referred to me as the ‘teacher of teacher’. I hoped that this ‘grand-teacher’ could enable them to learn more during the epidemic period!

16 March 2020 Panel on Public Service
Expressing concern over the extent to which Education Bureau deploys intermediary companies’ employees

10 March 2020 Special meeting of the Panel on Health Services
Expressing concern over the quality of face masks issued to DSE candidates and the arrangements for Hong Kong residents stranded in Hubei to return to Hong Kong

6 March 2020 Finance Committee
Is the Government constructing new sub-standard schools?

Representative of Hong Kong Professional Teachersb Union
in Legislative Council,
Hon IP Kin-yuen
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