The move by the civil service to stop grouping its officers by their education levels is a step in the right direction. It builds on previous efforts in the public sector to close the gap between graduates and non-graduates in pay and career advancement.
From this year, civil servants will no longer be put into four divisions: Division I for graduates, Division II for diploma and A-level certificate holders, Division III for those with secondary education and Division IV for those with primary education.
The change will address the perception that a civil servant's progression was determined by his paper qualifications, said the Public Service Division (PSD).
Reducing the focus on the paper chase is a topic Singaporeans clearly care about. The Straits Times' story on the change received more than 200 comments online and was shared more than 1,600 times on Facebook in four hours yesterday morning.
But the change has led some to misinterpret it as a sign that the civil service will ignore academic qualifications from now on. For instance, they argued that the civil service should no longer ask for a job applicant's education credentials.
This is not realistic. As the PSD had noted, paper qualifications can help assess job seekers with no experience, as is surely the case in the private sector.
But for a mindset change, promotion prospects need to be based on job performance and the readiness to take on greater responsibilities.
Supervisors should not hesitate to promote a person to a role normally performed by a graduate just because he does not have a degree.
Non-graduates should also not feel they need not put in that extra effort as they will never rise.
But while the divisions may go, it is not guaranteed that people will not fall back and mentally pigeonhole others into categories based on paper qualifications. The move's success hinges on ensuring a non-graduate can rise to high ranks over time, as it should be when promotions are truly based on merit.
If the civil service, as Singapore's largest employer with about 80,000 employees, can pull this off, it will go a long way in winning over cynics who feel the public sector will never outrun the paper chase.