Normal Academic (NA) streaming was introduced in early 1990s with the purpose of allowing students with different abilities and learning styles to develop and sustain an interest in their studies. Unfortunately, this system does not promise proportional academic help. Instead, NA students are often marginalized academically.
Secondary 3 Subject Offering
NA students have to accept that they have very limited subject option throughout their secondary education. Most schools run only 2 NA classes from Secondary 1 to 4, with academically better students in the better class.
At secondary 3, most schools offer Express students more than 10 options for subject streaming. However, NA students are usually asked only to choose between 2 classes with predefined subject combination. Very often one class offers single math (Elementary Math) while the other class offers double math (Elementary and Additional Maths). By secondary 4, students will be advised to drop subjects they are weak at, effectively leaving them with barely enough subjects to move on through secondary 4.
Secondary 4 N-Level Examinations
Secondary 4 is the extra year created for all NA students, requiring them to sit for the N-Level examinations in September and October. During this extra year, to prepare for N-level examinations, NA students typically complete their learning by April. The next 6 months are spent on preparation and examination. Holiday starts in early October, immediately after examinations.
Effectively, NA secondary 4 is as short as 4 months if there were no N-level examinations. Few good schools see it unnecessary to make all NA students waste 1 year on N-level examinations. They rather help good NA students to do well in lower secondary and transfer-promote them to Express stream.
Secondary 5 O-level Examinations
Based on N-Level Examination results, top students are offered PFP (Polytechnics Foundation Program). Weak students have to progress to ITE (Institute Of Technical Education). The remaining students will move on to Secondary 5 to sit for O-level. These students are from the two secondary 4 classes with a mix of different subject combinations and varying learning profile.
For this reason, most schools are not able to allocate teaching resources properly for their secondary 5 students. Compared to their counterparts in Express, most schools are leaving secondary 5 students more to themselves to face the O-level. Those who are unable to pass O-level will have to move on with ITE, making their secondary 5 a wasted year.
Good NA School?
Upon receiving PSLE (Primary School Leaving Exams) results, students with a lower score range will have to choose between Express and Normal Academic (NA) stream. Those who are familiar with Singapore Secondary school system knows that preference should always be given to Express stream. With the NA system running for more than 20 years now, we can safely say that it is not realistic to hope for every NA school a good school.
Parents should by all means choose an Express stream for their children, not only in Secondary 1 but throughout their secondary education. Many schools are taking advantage of the NA system to transfer-demote non-performing students from Express to NA stream. Weaker students are often forewarned in midyear to prepare for transfer-demotion at year end.