A Hong Kong primary school has urged the government to rethink tying the resumption of full-day classes to high vaccination rates, stressing the importance of a return to normal for students on whom the coronavirus pandemic has taken an emotional toll.
Administrators at the Fukien Secondary School Affiliated School in Yau Tong said this week that there was a need to address students’ mental health issues, arguing that reduced interactions in school amid pandemic-related class suspensions had affected pupils’ ability to control their feelings.
The school’s principal, Eva Hsu Au Yee-Wah, pointed to the stable pandemic situation, and questioned whether a high vaccination rate was really necessary for primary school students to return to full-day classes.
“We hope more schools can return to normalcy, which is also many parents’ wish,” she said.
Most Hong Kong schools have been holding half-day classes in recent months, with full-day sessions banned from September unless at least 70 per cent of students and teachers are vaccinated.
However, only children aged 12 and up can be vaccinated under the government’s rules, leaving most primary schools unable to return to full-day sessions in the new academic year.
A survey conducted by the Fukien school in June found that 43 per cent of 254 pupils and 37 per cent of 340 parents had experienced higher levels of anxiety and distress during the pandemic.
Hsu said staff had also noted some pupils dealing with their emotions differently than they did before the pandemic.
“We noticed some of our pupils have changed emotionally when reacting to events, such as when their belongings were accidentally knocked on the floor by another classmate. They would feel very frustrated and sometimes it would turn into a quarrel,” Hsu said.
Eva Lee Sum, a registered educational psychologist at the school, said the emotional effects of the pandemic on primary school students varied by age.
“For older primary school students who are more worried about their academic results and secondary school placements amid online lessons, they are more affected,” Sum said.
“Primary One children are very much impacted as well without interaction with their classmates and teachers, as these learning opportunities are very important for them.”
Hsu said if rules were relaxed to allow her school to have full-day classes in future, it would cut out afternoon academic lessons entirely, replacing them with new options for students to choose from, including lessons on emotional health taught by professionals.
Half-day classes were already enough to cover most of the academic curriculum, she added.
Apart from the lessons on emotional well-being, students could also choose to take classes on sports, personal growth or other topics that interest them.