Normal Academic (NA) streaming was introduced in the early 1990s with the purpose of allowing students with different abilities and learning styles to develop and sustain an interest in their studies. Over the years, various refinements to the policies were made to offer greater flexibility for NA students to progress academically.
Policy On Sitting For O-Level Subjects At Secondary 4
Since 2004 NA students are allowed to take up to 2 O-level subjects at secondary 4 when they also sit for their N-level examinations. This policy is popular and 90% of these NA students passed their O-level subjects at Secondary 4, with over 25% scoring distinctions. NA students use this policy more for O-level-to-N-level score conversion. An O-level subject with B3 or better is converted to N-level highest score of 1. For this reason most NA students see no incentive to do better than B3 for the O-level subject they are sitting.
In 2009 the policy was modified and NA students who can cope well are allowed to sit full N-level and O-level examinations in secondary 4. Most schools are not interested in the 2009 modification as it requires a lot more resources to implement. There is no mention of success case in the mainstream media.
Policy On Bypassing N-Level Examinations At Secondary 4
From 2006, selected NA students are allowed to bypass the N-level examinations in secondary 4 and progress directly to Secondary 5 to take O-level. According to Ministry of Education (MOE), the only reason for this policy is to free up time for NA students from “preparing for the N-level examinations”.
This is one of the most ill-implemented NA policy. Since the selected students are assured a place in secondary 5, they should complete their learning by April of secondary 4 year and move on to learn secondary 5 topics. However, schools simply do not have extra teaching resources to attend to them. These students are therefore advised to “attempt” N-Level as part of “learning process”. Eventually they waste 8 good months on N-level preparation and examination, instead of learning O-level topics.
Policy Refinement On Promotion Criteria to Secondary 5
Before 2009, NA students are promoted to secondary 5 based on the score on the English Language (EL) and the aggregate score of their best 3 subjects. Promotion criteria were revised in 2009 to base on their score on EMB3 (EL, Math and best 3 subjects). The change aligns the promotion criteria with Polytechnics’ admission requirements which is always based on 5 subjects aggregate scores, with EL and Math required for most courses.
Prior to this policy change, only 60% of secondary 5 students could make it to Polytechnics. The 40% who failed had to move on to the Institute Of Technical Education (ITE) after spending one wasted year in secondary 5. Most of them who failed were due to poor math foundation. For whatever reason this problem was not arrested earlier. This revision is therefore the one most critical NA policy. The benchmark of EMB3 is important and it should have been used more extensively. If the benchmark is extended to lower secondary as criteria for transfer-promotion of NA students to Express stream, it would enable many more NA students to complete secondary education in 4 years instead of 5.
Policy On More Pathways For NA Students After Secondary 4
In 2013 MOE opens 2 new pathways for NA students after their N-level results, top 10% students are allowed entry into Polytechnics by a 1-year Polytechnic Foundation Program (PFP). PFP option proves popular among NA students as it is the “secondary 5 without Mother Tongue (MT) and Humanities”.
Another pathway is a 2-year ITE Higher NITEC (National Institute Of Technical Education Certificate) to gain entry into Polytechnics. This option is 1 year longer than secondary 5 and is therefore not popular. Schools are asked to sell hard to 20% of the NA cohort on this option but there is no mention of success case in the mainstream media. Most NA students take the secondary 5 path if eligible.
Policy On Flexible Subject Offering For Lower Secondary NA Students
In 2014, selected schools are allowed to offer lower secondary NA students to take subjects they are strong in at Express level. 12 schools were selected to pioneer this scheme and full implementation in all secondary schools is scheduled for 2018.
NA system has been there for more than 20 years now and this policy is the only NA policy giving special attention to lower secondary NA students. Every year, more than 50% of the NA cohort are capable of making it to Polytechnics. For many parents, it is hard to understand why these NA students are not given the best help in lower secondary to be transfer-promoted to Express stream. Is it necessary to go the 5-year pathway of PFP or secondary 5 to enter Polytechnics?
Better Policy Needed For Lower Secondary NA Students
There is a general perception that NA students are slow learners. Though many of them are capable of fast forward to join their counterparts in the Express stream at lower secondary, very little attention is paid to boost their potentials.
Some of the NA policies can be easily tweaked to help lower secondary NA students. For example, the EMB3 criteria can be used uniformly across all lower secondary students to transfer-promote them to Express. In the case of subject offering, students who score A* or A on a certain subject can be admitted to Express stream and take their weaker subjects in NA class. This will allow them to take the full range of Express subjects instead of the limited option in NA class.