Getting the lowdown from on high

| Terence Chang 13 Sep 2018

When I first heard of the "Be a Government Official for a Day" program, I somehow associated it with the Korean movie Along with the Gods, probably because government policy secretaries give people the impression of being high and aloof.

I wondered if participating students would feel comfortable being together with these top officials for a day, and what they would learn. So I set up a face-to-face with two recent participants - Jerry Mak and Iva Tsang.

They were among the 34 secondary students selected to take part from more than 1,000 applicants, and they both found the experience valuable.

Tsang, from Shatin Tsung Tsin Secondary School, said: "I felt I did all right in the interview, and was assigned to Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung to learn about how the government works."

Mak, from St Francis Xavier's College, was attached to Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung.

He said: "I can't say I've learned a lot about education policies in a day, but I've gained a better understanding about a secretary's heavy daily work." Both Tsang and Mak found the secretaries friendly, and were amazed by how packed their daily work schedules were - meetings inside and outside the office, and taking part in activities.

The two observed that the officials worked from 9.30am to 7pm, handling one task after another, and that was just a normal day. They felt tired after the long day, but noticed that the secretaries weren't.

I think the exercise was similar to "work shadowing" in the West, with management trainees following the company's CEO around for a day or two to observe how they work.

While the program is called "Be a Government Official," Tsang and Mak knew it didn't mean they could actually act as a real official. Tsang chuckled: "I didn't go to their confidential meetings." Mak added: "It's not our place to take part in the making of policies anyway."

But the two did have the chance to attend a meeting, and learned that bringing different stakeholders to a consensus takes special skills.

Mak aspires to become an education psychologist to help special-needs students, such as those who have learning difficulties.

Tsang, who likes debating and writing, wants to become a journalist. "But I have to learn to be objective, to look at things from a different perspective and, of course, brush up on my English!"

Cheuk-cheung is the retired

headmaster of Diocesan Boys School.

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