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Sunday, Sep 20, 2020

Hong Kong schools take extra precautions – robots included – as thousands prepare to sit university entrance exam

Temperature checks, masks and desk distancing play key roles as schools open doors for coronavirus-delayed exams. The first test in the month-long process will kick off at 8.30am for the city’s Visual Arts students

As hundreds of Hong Kong schools gear up for Friday’s kick-off to a university entrance exam delayed by the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, vigilance is the watchword, with one school even bringing in three robots to boost health control measures.

More than 52,000 candidates will take the month-long Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams – originally scheduled to begin on March 27 – at about 350 exam centres located at secondary schools around the city.

Friday’s first exam was to involve 3,300 Visual Arts students, who would begin their written tests at 8.30am at 51 exam centres. The exams will continue through May 25.

Students have been reminded to arrive about 40 minutes early to undergo temperature checks and disinfection. Those with temperatures exceeding 38 degree Celsius will be asked to leave and see a doctor promptly, with their assessments then based on internal school results.

Exam authorities had earlier distributed 500,000 masks, 200,000 bottles of hand sanitiser and 3,500 sets of disposable gowns and face shields that school officials can quickly don if forced to deal with a student who falls ill during the exam.

All candidates and invigilators are required to wear face masks, and desks now sit about 1.8-meters from each other.

At Salesians of Don Bosco Ng Siu Mui Secondary School, one of the exam centres, a testing hall that normally accommodates 120 desks now holds just 48 after distancing measures were put in place.

It will begin hosting tests from next Monday, when Liberal Studies exams are set to take place.

The school has also added seven extra classrooms – each accommodating 12 candidates, while two classrooms have been reserved for students who show even mild health symptoms such as coughing.

In perhaps the city’s most novel preventive health measure, the school has also installed three robots this year, which will perform temperature screenings, provide students with hand sanitiser, disinfect the exam hall, and display encouraging messages to the candidates.

Assistant principal Ricky Chan Chi-wai said the plan to add robots to the mix came together fast. “From discussing with the company providing the robots to making the decision to have them delivered to the school, it was merely two to three days,” he said.

He added that the robots would also have a long-term function at the school, where they will be used to promote STEM education and imbue students with altruistic values.

The school conducted a full-scale trial run on Wednesday, with staff checking their 10 thermometers for accuracy while also practising putting on and taking off personal protection equipment including gowns and face shields.

At True Light Girls’ College in Yau Ma Tei, which will be holding the Visual Arts exam, 56 desks will sit inside the testing hall, far below its 150 seat capacity.

Vice-principal Fong Wing-sum said four staff would be in charge of checking candidates’ temperatures on Friday morning, adding that students who over 38 degree Celsius would be asked to take a rest and given one more chance to be checked again.

Victor Mui, 19, is one of the candidates taking the Visual Arts exam. He said he felt more stressed after the DSE exams were pushed back from March 27, and feared a worst-case scenario in which the exams might be cancelled midway.

“The wait has been tiring. It was as if I have been preparing for a sprint but instead it has become a long-distance run,” he said. “That’s why many of my friends prefer taking the exams earlier … and it could be unfair for some students if the exams are cancelled.”

Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung earlier urged employers to allow workers to go to work on flexible hours to ease morning rush hour traffic, especially on days which core subjects are taken and more students will be making their way to exam centres.

Railway operator MTR has announced plans to enhance morning services from Friday, while bus firms KMB, Citybus and NWFB have said they would resume some of the bus lines cancelled in the early days of the pandemic and strengthen morning operations.


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