DPM Tharman makes call for meritocracy to prevail in workplace, society
Singapore - At the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the performance of employees aged around 35 and above are assessed every year to identify potential candidates for senior leadership positions.
And those who fare well were not always the brightest in school.
In fact, the top 20 per cent each year - under MAS' internal staff assessment system - were made up mainly of employees who had scored two distinctions or fewer in their A levels.
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also MAS Chairman, cited the authority's experience with its staff as he made the call for the workplace - and society in general - to move away from an over-emphasis on academic credentials, to one where "continuous meritocracy" exists.
Speaking at the Nanyang Technological University's annual Ministerial Forum, which was attended by about 750 undergraduates and lecturers, Mr Tharman said: "We have to provide opportunities for everyone to improve and advance on the job, regardless of the qualifications you start with. And there is more to do, more to do in moving away from a system that is still too focused on academic credentials, to one that is focused on performance, to providing opportunities in the workplace for every individual based on their performance and aspirations."
He added: "We've got to be a continuous meritocracy, not one that's set at age 18 or 24, but a continuous meritocracy where you are evaluated continuously based on your contributions, your ability to influence your peers, add value on the job."
Stressing that success "is not and cannot be determined by what happened in your school years", Mr Tharman pointed out that "beyond school, we need to create bridges and ladders", so that even blue collar workers have the opportunities to move up the ranks.
In schools, Mr Tharman, who had previously helmed the Education Ministry, reiterated the need to strike a balance "between a differentiated education system and one that preserves a common core ... in the academic experience and the everyday experience".
The common experiences in and out of the classroom are important as they shape attitudes and ease of interaction with fellow citizens, he said.
Mr Tharman noted that social mobility has to start at a young age for Singaporeans - as early as pre-school education, where there should be a level playing field.
For a society to be inclusive and to ensure there is social mobility, Mr Tharman cited four elements: An activist government, a culture of individual effort and responsibility, workplace culture and community activism.
Mr Tharman noted that, globally, middle-class jobs are being lost. The phenomenon has begun in the United States and there are signs of it taking place in Europe and Japan - and with it goes the "middle-class dream", Mr Tharman noted.
Whereas society used to be dominated by the middle class, more jobs are now being created at the extreme ends - either low-paying jobs or those that pay top dollar - with middle-class jobs harder to come by, he said.
In the US, the trend has been attributed to globalisation, which has resulted in middle-class jobs being lost to other countries, and cuts by state and local governments.
During the question and answer session, Mr Tharman was asked about Singapore's competitive education system.
In response, Mr Tharman noted that it is "part and parcel of social mobility". "Frankly in the old days, things were more relaxed, because not so many people were in the game of succeeding in education ... Now everyone wants to do well - that's a good thing," he said.
"Everyone, no matter where they live, what type of flat and what job their parents do, they know that they can actually, by working quite hard, they can do well in education. And that is a very important feature of meritocracy in Singapore - that produces more competition for every place and more competition means more stress."
Still, Mr Tharman said he believed that "we have to find ways for kids early in life ... to go through somewhat less competition and stress". "The benefits in doing so would be more space and time for kids to enjoy themselves... You've got to have time and space to do other things," he said.--Courtesy of Today