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. Over the years, various refinements to the policies were made to offer greater flexibility for NA students to progress academically.
Pathways For NA Students
NA students are required to sit for N-Level Examinations at secondary 4. Based on examination results, top students are offered PFP (Polytechnics Foundation Program). The remaining students will have to choose between ITE (Institute Of Technical Education) and Secondary 5.
Since 2009, new policies were introduced to encourage NA students to join ITE after secondary 4. Admission to ITE courses is made easier. Standard of N-level examinations are also raised to align students progressing to secondary 5 to meet the expected admission requirements of Polytechnics.
O-Level For NA Students
Those who opt for Secondary 5 will sit for O-Level Examinations. Students who do well will progress to polytechnics. Those who do not perform well will have to return to the path of ITE for further education.
The NA system also offers students the alternative of pursuing the O-level path at lower secondary (Secondary 1 and 2). The option is still available today, but most schools are not promoting it. With the latest policies encouraging NA students to join ITE, schools always advise NA students against the idea of pursuing O-Level. Students who cannot make it to PFP are encouraged to take the ITE pathway.
Transfer-Promotion At Lower Secondary
What schools are neglecting is the policy on “transfer-promotion” at lower secondary where NA students who perform well academically are transfer-promoted into the next level of the Express stream. In other words, outstanding secondary 1 NA students can be promoted to secondary 2 Express. Similarly outstanding secondary 2 NA students can be promoted to secondary 3 Express. Students who are transfer-promoted will complete O-level in 4 years. Among past transfer-promoted NA students, some are known to make it to prestigious Law Schools overseas.
Today, very few schools provide NA students with the best help to facilitate transfer-promotion. Almost all schools are known to attain transfer-promotion rate of less than 5%. A handful, mainly Christian and mission schools, are consistently transfer-promoting NA students at the rate of 10% or higher. These schools not only allow their good NA students to learn subjects with Express textbook, they also conduct remedial lessons for transfer-promoted NA students to prepare them for integration into the Express stream.
NA Students For Polytechnics
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?
School principals and teachers who are staunch believers of “Every School A Good School” will want parents to believe that there is no bad teacher but only slow learning student. Schools will always maintain that their teaching resources are adequate and their teachers are good. Staying in NA and thereafter entering ITE is therefor “best option for the student in long-term”.
Good NA School
The transfer-promotion rate at lower secondary is the most important indicator on whether a school is running a good NA program in terms of management of teaching resources. High transfer-promotion rate means that the NA students are in good care by passionate educators. Unfortunately, this indicator is not published by mainstream media.
Instead, mainstream media use the average O-level score of secondary 5 NA students to show if a school is good. With top scoring NA students joining PFP at secondary 4, O-level score at secondary 5 is no longer a meaningful indicator on good NA school.
Good NA Student
With the NA system running for more than 20 years now, we can safely assume that it is not realistic to hope for every NA school a good school. For parents who are keen to get their NA children to sit for O-level, it is important to watch and monitor their child at lower secondary.
NA students will tell you that their class is noisy all the time. This peer behavior will reflect very quickly in their first term report book. The subjects a student do well are usually those with very strict teachers, able to keep students quiet in class. Parents should therefore check with the school on how rigorous they enforce disciplinary measures. While most schools offer good pastoral care, it is only effective when there is also a strict disciplinary master.