Parents in Japan and Hong Kong struggle as schools shut

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A child plays in a playground of a public housing estate win Hong Kong while wearing a mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus

Costs are growing for parents in Japan and Hong Kong with schools shut until April because of the coronavirus.

Schools are facing pressure to refund fees as children are forced to stay at home.

On Thursday, Japan joined Hong Kong in shutting schools in a stepped-up effort to stem the spread of the virus.

Schools in Japan are shut until 8th April while in Hong Kong they will remain closed until at least 20th April.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe made the call on shutting schools after a meeting of the country’s antivirus task force on Thursday. He said the next two weeks are critical to control the spread of the virus and “stem the risk of many children and teachers becoming infected through gathering for long hours every day.”

Parents on social media criticised the decision as one that could keep wage earners at home. But the government said it would work with companies.

“We will continue to urge public services and private companies to make it easier for people to take time off,” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Friday.

Offices and businesses in both Hong Kong and Japan have asked many employees to work from home. But parents have found working from home and balancing online classes for their children difficult.

Singapore and South Korea have so far kept schools open, using extensive screening, checking temperatures and requiring parents to test children at home.

One Hong Kong-based expatriate mother of two girls, ages 3 and 7, told the BBC she decided to extend a holiday in her home country of Japan and try home schooling because of the school closures in Hong Kong. But her husband was denied a request to work from home in Japan and remained in Hong Kong.

“Hence the kids have been apart from their father for 1.5 months now,” she said.

But with Japan schools now closed, it’s likely she will head back to Hong Kong.

“What a surprise decision from the Japanese government,” she said. “We’ve decided to go back to HK next week. Since there is no school, it does not really make sense to stay in Japan while being a part from my husband.” But returning to Hong Kong has raised concerns of a possible quarantine period of 14 days.

The financial hit has been hard as the international school her 7-year-old attends in Hong Kong has not refunded tuition fees, while the pre-nursery attended by her 3-year-old has also denied her a refund. However, a bus service has refunded 25% of her transport fees.

“We had to pay many activities outside school. Most of them gave credits or offered make up classes, but it’s not realistic to consume all missed class make-ups given the amount of missed classes. It’s very frustrating.”

Tuition and fees for the American School Hong Kong start at HK$168,000 (£16,700) for grades 1 to 4 and rises steadily through the grades. The Hong Kong International School starts in primary ages at HK$220,600 and rises to HK$252,200 for grade 12.

The British Kellett school starts at HK$172,600 in primary and runs to HK$220,800 for senior school.

The Hong Kong government on Wednesday in its budget said all residents would receive a one-time HK$10,000 payment to cushion the hit to the economy from the virus containment measures.

Hong Kong’s private and state schools are offering online lessons or emailed lesson worksheets, according to Ruth Benny who runs education consultancy topschools (HK).

Mrs Benny has taken her senior school daughter from Hong Kong to London to prepare for university admission tests, which are only scheduled at certain times of the year.

“It was not something we did lightly, but the school year has already been massively disrupted,” Mrs Benny said.

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