I agree completely with Tamil Maram who wrote (NST 21st June) about the Biro Tata Negara (BTN), the National Civics Bureau.
The BTN should be open and transparent to the public so as to dispel the widely held view that it is a secret indoctrination programme to instill obedience to the government. The correct approach for the BTN is to inspire loyalty to King and Country, by teaching the participants to uphold the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the country and to stand for the system of law and order that is enshrined in our constitutional democracy.
The programme should use the Rukunegara for making participants understand more deeply the national ideology for bringing the various races together.
The BTN is tailored for civil servants and government as well as GLC scholarship holders, the "captive participants" who complain they have to listen patiently to the instructors and are not expected to ask questions or engage them in a debate because that will be interpreted as a sign of disloyalty to the government and the country. Those who believe they were not given the opportunity to express their own opinions liken the BTN course as brain washing.
Historical facts are manipulated to drive home the propaganda message, even though the participants know from their own general knowledge and social media sources that the real facts are different. While the young boys and girls who attend the BTN are happy about meeting new friends and doing the outdoor activities, they are reluctant or forbidden to discuss their experience with others on the subtle efforts made to programme their minds on issues of race and religion or on who came to the country first.
As senior government officers during the eighties, we were made to attend a retreat in Langkawi organised by BTN under its programme to inculcate nationalistic values in our work. I noticed that only Malay officers were invited to the retreat. I was also disappointed with the programme content which I felt was more about political indoctrination than an intellectual exercise of making the senior officers understand the local and global environment facing the country, the challenges ahead of us and how we could contribute towards nation building. There was no free flow of discussion among the participants.
After this experience, I declined to attend subsequent BTN courses because I felt it was time wasting as there was nothing useful that I could learn from the weekend retreat.
I hope the BTN has changed since then. The BTN should orientate its camp training or retreats towards cultivating an awareness for the multicultural dimensions of our society and an appreciation that our diversity is a blessing for the country and motivating a spirit of Malaysian unity.