Questionable civics lessons

(NST Editorial) IF it were just the packed schedules, or the camp-like regimentation that disallows handphones and cameras, that have been responsible for some of the bad reviews of the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) course, we would have no cause to get too worked up.

In the first place, whether it's called an orientation programme, induction course, or any other name, it's a common enough initiation ceremony through which a new member is admitted to any organisation. And like any rite of passage, some would find it purposeful and love every minute of it, while others would find it meaningless and come out with bad memories. But in the case of the BTN civics lessons, the claims of racism that have been levelled against them hit a raw nerve for the simple reason that it goes against their very purpose as a nation-building exercise to develop loyal and committed civil servants.

These allegations were brought up in Parliament last December but were denied by the Prime Minister's Department. But the fact that similar charges continue to be made suggests that rather than being on the defensive, it would be appropriate for the department to sort out the matter instead of allowing it to fester. The possibility that there could be ideological control freaks abusing the course to force their own dogma and agenda down the throats of the participants should not be ruled out. It has become even more imperative to clear up any whiff of suspicion about the manner in which the training has been conducted, now that BTN is set to organise courses and seminars on the 1Malaysia concept not only for the public services but also for the private sector.

As Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz has rightly reiterated, "the courses must make everyone proud to be Malaysians, celebrate our diversity and foster unity". In this connection, his call to BTN "to recalibrate its programmes in accordance with the 1Malaysia concept" merits attention. Given that it is a newly minted concept, it seems to be more practical to use it as a thinking tool and a starting point. It is also questionable whether courses on nation-building should be about inducting learners into a set of rules of behaviour and fixed codes of conduct. This suggests a change in the pedagogical approach to one that stimulates thinking and allows the sharing of ideas on fostering unity and a better understanding of the overarching framework of shared values that is relevant to all Malaysians.