H2 History: What Makes a Good History Essay (Sample)

We would like to start off with this disclaimer - THERE REALLY isn't a model essay out there, not in the field of Humanities anyway, but there are always good versus bad ones. What are the hallmarks of a GOOD (HIGH SCORING) History essay at the A-Levels? We will take the time out to dissect a REAL history essay in this very blog post.



To what extent did education succeed in promoting national unity in independent Southeast Asian states?



All Southeast Asian countries attempted to promote national unity, to varying degrees of success. One of the methods used by Southeast Asian states was the use of the education system, which aimed to instill national values and create a sense of nationhood among the people, thereby promoting national unity [P1] . This was done through the teaching of official accounts of history to impart a sense of belonging to the country, and the use of language policies in education to use communications as a means to foster collective consciousness in schools, that would translate to national unity. Throughout Southeast Asia, the use of education to promote national unity was successful when both methods were applied with a multicultural slant, fostering greater unity between various ethnic groups, but tended to be unsuccessful when applied in an assimilationist slant. This was because it tended to alienate the minorities and create and deepen existing socio-economic divisions. [P2]


P1 - The candidate explains the given factor and its role in promoting national unity.

P2 - Observe how the integration of the overarching approaches in nation-building have contributed to different outcomes when implemented through the education system. The justification for the stand is also explicit.


Education was successful in promoting national unity when the teaching of national histories was done from a multicultural angle. The promotion of a neutral national history and identity in education acted as a binding force among different ethnic communities, since it did not emphasise the role played by one ethnic group over another[P3] . In Singapore, the National Education Programme implemented in 1997 was able to bind the people together and foster a sense of self-respect and pride among Singaporeans. This was done through the teaching of a neutral national history emphasising how the different immigrant communities came together in Singapore as part of the nation-building process. The teaching of racial equality and ideals of meritocracy in civics and moral education lessons further enhanced the notion of equality between ethnic groups and the supra-national identity, hence promoting national unity in Singapore. Hence, the teaching of national histories through education was successful when implemented in a country that adopted a multicultural approach in nation-building [P4] .


P3 - The first point addresses the writing and teaching of national histories in the education system and explains how a multicultural approach was more successful.

P4 - What the candidate could have done is to explain how the historical narrative in Singapore was more inclusive, highlighting the contributions of various ethnic groups to the nation’s development.

Education also succeeded in promoting national unity through the adoption of language policies. When neutral language policies were adopted, it served to foster a sense of collective consciousness amongst disparate ethnic communities, hence promoting national unity [P5] . In Indonesia, the adoption of Bahasa Indonesia which was based on Malay, the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago, as a medium of instruction in schools allowed all ethnic groups equal opportunity to excel, given that the language was not native to any ethnic group. It also served as an important symbol of unity within the education system and beyond, as all ethnic groups, especially the minorities, could accept the language given that it had no affiliation to any ethnic group, particularly the Javanese majority. In Singapore, the adoption of the bilingual education policy and English as the lingua franca and main medium of instruction in schools also incorporated all ethnic traditions through provisions for the teaching of mother tongue languages and gave each racial group equal opportunity to excel, hence promoting national unity. Hence, the use of language in education has succeeded in fostering a sense of national identity and unity when employed in a multicultural slant.


P5 - This point focused on the idea of using linguistic policy in the education system. A multicultural approach to language which downplays the majority language or adopts a neutral language was more successful.

However, the success of multicultural language policies is also limited. In Singapore, bilingual education has provided uneven benefits for the Indians and Malays, as Malays are often the poorest performers in school. This has hindered their educational prospects. Hence, language policies in education do face limitations, thus restricting the success of Southeast Asian states in promoting national unity[P6].


P6 - Even though the candidate was able to identify the limitations of the multilingual policy in Singapore, the evaluation could have been better integrated into the earlier discussion. In other words, this paragraph should be part of the earlier paragraph to highlight the gaps though the end point of the paragraph should emphasise that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Moreover, education was less successful in promoting national unity when employed in an assimilationist stance. The teaching of a national history which places emphasis on the role played by some ethnic groups and ignored the rest alienates the minorities, worsening societal divisions, even leading to the rise of secessionist movements in some countries[P7] . In the Philippines, the Filipino curriculum’s emphasis on the development and nationalism of the Christians in the official state history and portrayal of the Moro resistance as anti-nationalistic has provoked strong opposition. The marginalisation of Islamic principles in official history has angered Moros studying in the public education system, fuelling secessionist movements such as the Moro National Liberation Front which developed by the 1960s and 1970s. Even in multicultural Indonesia, the emphasis of the heroic ideals of revolution sanctified in the 1940s revolutionary struggle has alienated whole groups or communities who did not participate in Dutch resistance, such as those communities living in Flores or Nias. This dislocation has led some like the Acehnese to claim independence from Indonesia, failing to see the connection between the national history and their own. Thus, the teaching of national histories was not successful in promoting national unity, instead further enhancing ethnic divides and causing separatist sentiments, when employed in an assimilationist manner.


P7 - This is the comparative argument for the use of national histories though the positioning of the point should be reconsidered to avoid coming across as a two-part essay.

Education was also less successful when language policies in education had assimilationist tendencies, as it often worsened socio-economic divides instead[P8] . In the Philippines, the adoption of a bilingual English and Tagalog programme has led to significant differences in literacy levels between ethnic groups. The Mindanao region had a 65% literacy level, whilst Luzon had 90% and Manila 95%. The significant difference in literacy levels and the minority group's inability to understand Tagalog course content has later translated to poorer employment opportunities. Hence, an assimilationist language policy in education has worsened socio-economic divide between the minority communities and the dominant Catholic/Christian Filipino communities in the Philippines. In multicultural Malaysia, the adoption of Malay instead of English as the medium of instruction in schools has disadvantaged the Chinese and Indians. In a 1991 Malay examination, only 33% and about 10% of Chinese and Indians passed, compared to 72% Malays. The difference in success rates in school has translated to poorer scholarship and employment opportunities for the Indians and Chinese, creating a degree of social instability in the country. Hence, when multicultural countries attempted to impose a language policy that had an assimilationist slant to promote national unity, it was often unsuccessful, widening socio-economic divides and worsening social tensions instead[P9] .


P8 - This is similar to the earlier paragraph, where the candidate was able to identify the need for comparative analysis but the positioning of the idea could be reconsidered. There was valid evaluation of multicultural countries adopting contradictory policies in certain aspects of the education system.

P9 - The essay was able to provide a range of relevant aspects on the role of education in promoting national unity, though other aspects such as the use of religion and infusion of ideology into the education system may be highlighted. More consistent links to the outcomes of these policies would strengthen the connection to the appraisal of results of the given approach.


In conclusion, when employed in a multicultural approach, education was more successful in promoting national unity, whether through the teaching of a neutral national history or the adoption of a neutral language policy in school. However, in countries where a dominant state history was adopted or language policies favoured a dominant ethnic group, education was assimilationist in nature. This served to worsen socio-economic divides and alienate the minorities, fuelling social tensions and resulting in the rise of secessionist movements in some cases. Hence, education when employed with an assimilationist slant was unsuccessful in promoting national unity.


Note that there should not be new ideas/points in the conclusion. Focus on reiterating the thesis statement and position the broad ideas covered in the response towards this end.


To successfully dissect more essays for History and learn the skills of how to truly write a fantastic essay, join our H2 history classes now. Call us at 6264 2236 or 9661 9760.

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