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  Behind the Mist
By X-Cham

Students' Association Review

In the Constitution of the Student Association, it is stated that the Association shall be the sole representative of the student body, as a whole, in affairs both inside and outside the School. It wouldn't be a question how little students know about this. In any case it is a matter of logic that the Student's Association relates to us deeply. Some higher form students simply have spent much of their time in the S.A. headquarters – even more than that in the classroom.

Yet this organization is not as healthy as it looks. There are many shortcomings, unbeknownst by the majority. Problems that go unnoticed are the most disastrous ones. This article, hopefully, can arouse student's awareness on the problems of the SA.

Money to the SA is as important as food to us. From photocopying proposals to buying stationeries, arranging transport to hiring venues, money is integral for the day-to-day operations. The SA wouldn't be able to function properly if it were in the red.

The source of income in fact is mainly based on sponsorships. 'At least sixty percent of our income is from sponsorships,' declared Gary Tat, the outgoing president of Student's Association. He further went on to say: 'The annual subscription paid by students, comparatively, plays a less important role in supporting the SA's finances.' The financial dependence on sponsorships is obvious. In the past, the annual ball, usually with at least $15,000 surplus, served as another financial support to the SA. But with the keen competition of rave parties, annual balls organized by other schools and some other miscellaneous reasons, the 2001 annual ball could only break even. It can be anticipated that in the future, the SA will rely even more heavily on sponsorships.

This conclusion is worrying. Due to the financial turmoil, the economic atmosphere in Hong Kong is not so favourable. It can be expected that fewer and fewer companies may sponsor student-based organizations. As a result, it would be difficult for the next few sessions of the SA to source for income.

Apart from financial problems, there are structural problems in both the executive council and the student council, which are also menacing.

The most serious structural problem is the ever-decreasing quality of the student council. The absent rate of councilors is not high; however, this is only an illusion. It is stated in the constitution that a councillor would be considered as present if he attends thirty minutes of the meeting. There are many councillors who take advantage of this, leaving in the middle of the meeting. In fact, an ordinary council meeting would last for around 45 minutes, given that there are no important issues to be discussed. As a result the important issues of the SA are usually discussed by less than half of the councillors, as those meetings are usually long.

In addition, even if the councillors are present in the meeting, most of them only act as 'voting machines'. There are few raising questions. It seems to them that most of the proposals are either incorrigible or incontrovertible.

Consequently, a few years later, when the higher form councillors have graduated, there will be virtually no supervision over the executive council. This is, of course, perilous. The imbalance simply will lead to the dominance of the executive council and ancient wisdom professes that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

On the other hand, the structural problem lying in the executive council is the exuberance of posts in standing committees and boards. Some students just don't have their own duties. For instance, assistant general secretaries in the secretariat are abundant. But according to our ex-president Alan Lui, this way has its own value. 'It is usual that some members of the standing committees don't work. As to prevent the lack of helpers, we choose to recruit more than enough helpers.'

Though such practice may have solved the problem of human resources, this solution is actually sacrificing the morale. The uneven work allocation would make those who work feel discouraged when they know some of their colleagues are actually free from work.

For lower form students, they may not know what the SA is all about, but they would surely know about clubs and societies of WYK. Undoubtedly, societies and clubs in WYK would be the first point of contact that lower form students encounter.

Yet their enthusiasm towards these clubs and organization is usually put out within a year. This can be inferred from the member structure of clubs. Taking the Astronomy Society and Scimaths Club as examples, the majority of the members are from S1; higher form members are comparatively very rare. The reason, obviously, would be the poor performance of clubs – only those who weren't club members would choose to become one.

The supervision of clubs primarily is the job of the liaison board. 'Every club has to hand in an annual report describing its work of the year, and the chairman of the liaison board would distribute subsidies to clubs according to the report,' stated Gary Tat. Yet the reality is such a level of supervision is surely not enough as clubs still work in their own ways, ways not appreciated by the majority.

The SA possesses the power of suspension of affiliated Clubs' activities or the action of dissolving of the clubs, as stated in the constitution. Yet exercising this power is extremely rare. As the performance of most clubs is equally bad, it would be unfair to execute such penalty to only a few of them; and it would be a too great turmoil to dissolve so many clubs. It's like the atomic bomb – either you not use it or if you do, it has too many undesirable effects. Possessing such a power, therefore, makes no difference in improving the quality of supervision.

The lack of enthusiasm of lower form students is another hidden problem of the SA. Generally, lower form students pay little attention to SA affairs. As a consequence, when they are in higher forms, they lack the knowledge and experience working in the SA.The fundamental cause of it is the insufficient transparency of the SA. As a matter of logic, what one doesn't know, one doesn't care. It's a simple causal relation.

In fact, it's councilors' responsibility to report the working progress of the executive council to their own class. Yet practically this channel is useless. As stated before, the deficiencies in the council prevent students to know anything from the SA. Furthermore there isn't a specific time for class representatives to perform their duties. On the other hand, the executive council does little in publicizing the activities as they deem it's councilors' responsibilities. Taking the centralized selection scheme as an example, the main aim of this activity is to recruit helpers for the SA in different standing committees. Councilors are expected to tell this to their classmates; however this is almost never the case. The executive council of course would have stuck posters in each class to show the venue and date of a particular event. The outcome is that only very few lower form students will go to the recruitment as most of them don't understand what the ccentralized selection scheme is.

What makes the case worse is that there are actually few activities which are for lower form students. 'Many activities such as EKI and Annual Ball are only opened to higher-form students.' said Alan Lui, the SA president 98-99. Although this problem is alleviated in our year, it is undeniable that lower form students have little chance to participate and organize activities. The lack of information about the SA activities and the lack of chances in taking part in them simply preclude the lower form students to find a sense of belonging from the SA.

The last stab in the wound is the deprivation of voting power of form one and form two students on the cabinet election of the SA. Imagine you are a form two student: I don't have the chance to elect the president; I don't know what is going on, I don't know what activities I can take party in – What's the point of caring about the SA? Such a line of thought would be understandable and common.

Furthermore, this is more than a question of enthusiasm. It is one of legitimacy. 'The rights of voting should be granted to all SA members,' declared Alan Lui. 'It shouldn't be only opened to students above form three. In any case, form two students, who had already paid the subscription fee in the previous year should be granted the voting right.'

Gary Tat, however, holds another view. 'Form 1 and Form 2 students have little idea about the structure of the SA. It would be inappropriate for them to vote.'

The present practice may make the cabinet elections more in-depth, however, the isolation of lower form students from SA activities would obviously continue to worsen the problem.

The autonomy of the WYK SA would be a very distinct feature among other student organizations in secondary level. It's stated clearly in the constitution that the student council, which represents students, shall possess the highest authority among the decisions of any other student organization in the School in all matters concerning the Students as a whole. Teachers are only taking the role as advisors but don't possess any power. However what being written on paper may not always reflects the reality. The so-called autonomy of SA is only partial, and this partial autonomy appeared to be curtailed gradually too.

The function of the advisory committee is to give advice and guidance to the planning and implementation of the affairs of the Association. Yet in reality its function is not only that. 'The advisors will restrict some details of the activities or ban some of the activities.' Said Alan. ' The organization of Joint-school camps are nearly impossible.' The fact which the advisory committee is interfering SA's affairs appears to be out of question. 'The Advisory committee seems to hold a strict control over some kind of activities.' said Gary.

And what is worrying is that such kind of restriction is growing more stringent. For example, the closing time of the annual ball has become earlier and earlier in these years. It is even rumored that Hockey is banned in the Joint-school summer project with the reason of ' too dangerous'.

The interference from the advisory committee would, first of all, pose a negative effect on the enthusiasm of the ex-cos. It is natural that teenagers hate to be controlled. The excessive intervention of the advisors would eventually curtail their incentive. Furthermore the strict control over activities would shrink the number of participants: the annual ball, under the request of advisor, has to be ended at 9 o clock .It is certain that such an unprecedentedly early closing time would cause an unprecedented number of participants.

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