Coronavirus crisis throws timing of HKDSE exams into doubt

February 07, 2020 16:33
Education Secretary Kevin Yeung (Center) says the government is considering two options regarding the timetable of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination. Photo: HKEJ

While secondary schools in Hong Kong will not resume classes until March 2 at the earliest due to the coronavirus problem, the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Examination is also facing uncertainty over its timetable, pending a decision for relevant arrangements at the end of this month.

At a press conference on Thursday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said all HKDSE oral and practical exams scheduled to be held before March 27 will be postponed.

Though exams are important to the 50,000 students because the results will determine who gets university places, they can be put off as ensuring the young people's health and safety is a bigger priority, the official said.

The government must ensure candidates’ safety, while it also considers time constraints related to candidates who wish to apply for further studies overseas.

As such any delay in the HKDSE exams would not be long, Yeung said.

According to the official, the Education Bureau (EDB) is considering two options, with one being that only practical exams for physical education and music, and an oral exam for the Chinese language subject will be postponed until May while the other exams, including written exams of different subjects and the English oral exam, are to take place as scheduled.

In such scenario, the HKDSE results release date is expected to be July 15, roughly one week behind schedule.

The second option is that all written tests will be postponed until April 24, and completed by May 25, with physical education and music practical exams delayed until late May to mid-June.

Oral tests for the both subjects of Chinese language and English language will be cancelled, according to this second alternative.

“The situation is changing every day, so we can’t tell for sure whether we could really do the exam on March 27," Yeung told the presser.

"That’s why we say that we would make another assessment towards the end of this month and decide whether we would go for option one or option two," he said.

In a radio program on Friday morning, the education chief said that if the written exams are postponed but both the Chinese and English oral exams keep going, the date for releasing results of the HKDSE exams will have to be delayed to August, a move that would make it harder for students to apply for admission to universities overseas.

Asked what the EDB will do if the epidemic situation remains severe in April, Yeung said a further delay of the DSE exams is still not impossible under such circumstance.

That said, the education chief added that he is confident that the HKDSE exams this year can take place smoothly, citing the example when both the then Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination could still be held in 2003, when Hong Kong was ravaged by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

So Kwok-sang, secretary general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), said at the same news conference that participation in the HKDSE exams shouldn't be considered a high-risk activity.

He pointed out that the HKEAA had stepped up infection prevention efforts, with the measures including quarantine of the exam venues. Also, all candidates and invigilators will be required to wear face masks.

All candidates must provide written declarations that they had not visited the mainland in the previous 14 days.

Candidates shouldn't take their exams at the test venues if they suffer from fever. If a candidate refuses to cooperate or makes a false declaration, the person will be considered for punishment or even disqualification, So said.

Meanwhile, all schools across the city would reopen by March 2 at the soonest.

Whether classes will actually resume by the date depends on the epidemic development and health experts’ advice, as well as the supply of protective gear including masks and rubbing alcohol, according to the education chief.

The date by which primary schools have to submit results of the third Primary 6 internal examination for the purpose of the Secondary School Places Allocation has been extended from April 24 to May 11, Yeung said.

If secondary and primary schools end up being unable to resume classes on or before March 9, the third Primary 6 internal examination for the Secondary School Places Allocation purpose will be called off, the official said.

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