Online classes resumed in Hong Kong schools this month, but a number of teachers remain stranded in Britain because of the Covid-19 travel ban, the Post has learned.
Nearly one in 10 teachers from Harrow International School, including its head, Ann Haydon, are still stuck in Britain. Belinda Greer, CEO of the city’s biggest international school group, English Schools Foundation (ESF), is also unable to return.
They are among hundreds of city residents left stranded after the Hong Kong government banned flights from Britain since December 22 to prevent the import of a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus.
Those eager to return have considered going from Britain to a third country before flying to Hong Kong, a trip that could mean spending up to six weeks in quarantine.
Both Harrow and ESF said their stranded teachers were trying to find their way back, while arranging to conduct online classes remotely to minimise the impact on their students. The time difference means the teachers in Britain have to work the night shift to see their students in Hong Kong.
Some parents were concerned that the teaching quality would suffer, although others felt the impact was limited and the situation was unavoidable.
In a letter to parents seen by the Post, Harrow head Haydon revealed that she and 14 teachers were still in Britain as the new term began on Monday.
Eight are upper school teachers of students in Year 6 to 13, and the rest are from the lower school which includes kindergarten to Year 5. Harrow has more than 160 teachers, with over 130 teaching at the upper school.
“Staff in the UK will be working Hong Kong hours as of January 11, and fulfilling their professional duties from a distance,” Haydon said in her letter. “Staff are booked on the first available flight back to Hong Kong and we are monitoring the situation closely.”
A Harrow spokeswoman told the Post the school was keeping to Hong Kong government guidelines in providing online learning for its 1,500 students.
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said she was aware of Harrow’s situation, had contacted the school and understood that its operations were normal.
She added that teachers and students were reminded not to travel during the year-end holidays because of the pandemic. The bureau would be in close contact with the schools and offer advice when necessary, she said.
In-person classes have been suspended in Hong Kong schools since early December and through the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February. Schools have the flexibility to allow small groups of students to return for half-day lessons or examinations.
ESF, which runs 22 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in the city, confirmed that “a small number of staff” who travelled to Britain were affected by the flight ban when the new term began on January 4 and they included CEO Greer.
Responding to queries from the Post, a spokeswoman said the stranded group was “in the process of making their way back to Hong Kong”.
Some families with children at Harrow and ESF’s schools were also unable to get back from Britain.
One mother at Harrow, who asked to remain anonymous, was concerned by the absence of staff stranded overseas.
“A large number of [faculty] as well as the head of school have left Hong Kong and there is no way to know when they will be able to return. This greatly undermines the curriculum being provided to students at Harrow,” she said.
She added that the time difference between Hong Kong and Britain also affected the stranded teachers’ ability to prepare for classes.
She said learning materials for the new term arrived at 6pm Hong Kong time on Sunday, January 10, just 14 hours before classes began the next day.
“I am sure if all the teachers were in Hong Kong, they would not throw last-minute work back to parents,” she said.
But another Harrow parent said online learning had been mostly smooth so far, as the teachers outside Hong Kong kept to the city’s timetable.
“Many schools are in this situation and it is unavoidable,” the parent said.