Why It Matters

Closing the salary gap

From October, non-graduate classroom teachers will be paid on the same salary scale as their peers with graduate qualifications.

Non-graduate teachers make up a minority in the teaching ranks of the Ministry of Education (MOE), but the impact and significance of the move extends well beyond the education sector and civil service.

The civil service is the largest employer in Singapore. There are some 82,000 civil servants and about 33,000 of them are teachers.

MOE has sent the signal that if it can look beyond paper qualifications in how it charts the career of capable teachers, other employers ought to do likewise. Since last year, the Government has taken small but progressive steps to offer civil servants without degrees the same prospects as those who are university graduates.

Since August last year, non-university graduates who join the civil service are hired under the same scheme as university graduates and under the same appraisal scheme.

These moves show that the Government is walking the talk.

After all, its Aspire committee report on polytechnic and technical education released last year sought to emphasise the importance of skills, and not just paper qualifications.

While the gap in salaries and career paths between graduate and non-graduate civil servants is narrowing, there is some distance to go. This has to do with how civil servants are grouped rigidly into four basic divisions or classes.

The highest is Division 1 or the administrative and professional grade, followed by Division 2 or the executive and technical grade. Clerks make up Division 3 and manual workers the lowest Division 4 grade.These ought to be removed gradually over time.

The latest MOE move is yet another progressive step. What remains to be seen is how far it will spur other ministries and private-sector employers to follow suit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Closing the salary gap'. Print Edition | Subscribe