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Problematic Home Economics exam question highlights just how behind the Leaving Cert curriculum remains


By Sarah Gill
11th Jun 2022

Unsplash

Problematic Home Economics exam question highlights just how behind the Leaving Cert curriculum remains

The state exam has been heavily criticised for a question that appeared on the Home Economics exam paper asking how different coloured clothing can be used to flatter body size.

Yes, it’s the year 2022 and yes, the Leaving Certificate Home Economics exam is asking students to detail what colour clothing items best flatter body size and shape.

Reminiscent of the diet culture of the ‘90s and the subsequent conversations around body image and disordered eating, the question has received its fair share of criticism since the exam took place on Wednesday afternoon.

Asked within the context of the Textiles, Fashion and Design section for a grand total of 10 marks, the question has sparked renewed public interest in scrutinising the Leaving Certificate curriculum as a whole.

Irish writer and actor Stefanie Preissner was among those who took to Twitter to express her outrage.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Leaving Cert Home Ec paper asked ‘discuss how colour can be used to flatter body size and shape’,” Preissner wrote. “As if thousands of students sitting exams don’t ALREADY have eating disorders and body sensitivities. The question is basically ‘how to look thin’?”

From initial formulation of the question, to the proofing and printing stages, the Irish public are shocked that this line of questioning made it through to examination day.

Many cited the apparent rise in disordered eating among young people as a hangover from the Covid-19 lockdowns, while others looked to the general vulnerability of teenagers struggling with body image in their formative years.

A problematic question through and through, is there even a right or wrong answer? Raising the issue of what we — as a society — consider flattering, in this day and age, it is entirely subjective.

Sinéad Crowe of Intuitive Eating Ireland has also spoken out about the matter, reminding her 26.7k Instagram followers that when we use the word ‘flatter’, we’re really saying ‘how to look as thin as possible’.

In a subsequent Instagram live, Crowe said that she believes that this question is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a wider curriculum that normalises diet culture and dialogue around thinness, fatness, and anti-fat bias.

Reinforcing beauty standards and a universal quest towards thinness, Crowe believes that this question tells students sitting the exam that we should all endeavour to move away from what we’ve been told is ‘unflattering’.

While the other side have written off criticism of the exam as ‘PC gone mad’, the backlash is a welcome reminder that there is a duty of care required when drafting exams for vulnerable students.