Animals are still used in harmful ways by some Kiwi schools and tertiary institutes. These animals are being used in outdated teaching exercises, such as animal dissections. But it doesn’t have to be this way – Humane Education is not only possible but better for everyone!
What Is Humane Education?
Humane Education has been broadly defined as the use of education to nurture compassion and respect for living things. In the context of animals used for teaching purposes in New Zealand, Humane Education is when students are taught with methods that don't involve the harmful use of animals.
The harmful use of animals in education: Any teaching method where animals are forced to undergo something that is likely to cause them pain, injury, distress or death and that is not meant to benefit that specific animal involved. Common examples include:
- Animal Dissections
- Behavioural Experiments
- Chemical Manipulation Demonstrations
- Surgical, Clinical or Technician Practice
All of these examples are currently being performed in NZ.
What Do Humane Education Methods Look Like?
There is a huge variety of humane education methods that currently exist, and more are being created all the time. These can come in many forms including software, anatomical models, simulation manikins, online resources, virtual reality and more! These methods can range from simply designed tools for children as young as pre-school/kindergarten, all the way to highly advanced tertiary level. Find out more here.
How Many Animals Are Used & What Is Happening Globally?
In 2016 it was reported by the NZ Government that 30,396 animals were used for teaching. Many of these animals would have been used in harmful teaching exercises. It doesn't have to be this way - animals don't have to be hurt in order for students to learn!
Globally, action is being taken to fully replace the use of animals in dissections and other harmful teaching methods. It is being recognized on an international level, that humane education is the best way forward not just for the animals, but for the students and institutes too.
Key Benefits of Humane Education
There are many reasons why humane education is better than harmfully using animals including:
Animals are saved
Some animals are bred and killed for the sole purpose of being used in animal dissections. If a humane alternative is used instead, these animals can be rehomed or they may never have been bred for this purpose in the first place! Animals are sentient and should be treated with love and respect, they should not be treated as if they are mere lab tools.
Dissecting animals may also teach students that the right, and perhaps only way to study biology is to kill animals and take them apart which we know isn't true. It's important that children learn to have compassion for animals and to recognise each animal's inherent worth.
The impact on student wellbeing is minimised
No student is going to be negatively emotionally impacted by using a humane teaching method. However, the same cannot be said for teaching exercises that harm animals. For the students who don’t disconnect with what is happening, they could be left with psychological trauma. Stressful situations like this may also put students off wanting to pursue a career in science.
Learning outcomes are achieved
Students often perform just as well, if not better when using non-animal alternatives. These alternatives can be repeated to consolidate learning and they remove the emotional trauma that animal dissections can cause some students. Learning can be impacted by a negative emotional state, students that are uncomfortable when participating in an animal-based teaching exercise, may not learn or retain information as well.
Humane Education fulfils already existing guidelines
The principle of Replacement is promoted in NZ law. This principle states that institutes and individuals should replace the use of animals in teaching by substituting for animals, where appropriate, non-sentient or non-living alternatives or by imparting the information in another way.
Many non-animal alternatives for dissection exist and students can meet their learning goals without using animals, so it is our ethical responsibility to use non-animal alternatives instead of animals.
When schools and tertiary institutes choose to use Humane Education to teach their students, they fulfil already existing guidelines such as the principle of Replacement.
Some of the Steps We Are Taking to Encourage Humane Education
Currently, in NZ, there is no way for parents of students to find out what schools use animals for teaching. Those wishing to attend schools where animals are not harmfully used (e.g. for dissection exercises) do not have an easy way of finding out what schools they are. NZAVS is in the process of collecting this information. We have created a survey that asks schools in NZ about their use of animals and specific details surrounding this. Once we have received a response from as many schools in NZ as possible, we will have a list of “Humane Educators” who do not harmfully use animals for teaching at all!
We have joined the Eclipse Dissection Working Group, which is made up of international groups like us! Our collective aim is to end the use of animal dissections in elementary and secondary education by 2024.
In 2017, we released our new children's book "The Six-Foot Rats" which educates children in a fun way about the scientific invalidity of using a rat to predict the human response. Although we have this book available for anyone to buy, we decided we wanted to do even more so we set up a fundraiser so we could send a book to all primary school libraries and most public libraries in NZ!
We've presented on this issue to the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC) and since then, NAEAC has promoted alternative methods to animal dissection to all of the Animal Ethics Committees in NZ! We also gave a presentation on Humane Education to the University of Otago, as we have been emphasizing the need for the university to move away from harmful teaching methods involving animals. You can read more about this event here.
It’s our job to educate Aotearoa about humane education and expose the fact that animals are still being killed and harmed for teaching purposes here. We are working hard to create a future where all schools and tertiary institutes in NZ are Humane Educators - committed to no longer using animals in harmful ways to teach students!
Keep an eye on this page and sign up to our mailing list for updates.
Note: Although we want all schools and tertiary institutes in NZ to no longer use animals harmfully for teaching purposes at all, as a first step, we are currently excluding animals that were already having a harmful procedure done to them outside of the institute, and that students have been allowed to be involved in. For example, if students had to do work experience at a farm as part of their course requirements, and the farmer was docking the lamb's tails using an elastrator and the students were to assist in some way (potentially restraining lamb etc) then we wouldn’t be targeting this. The reason the animals are used in this way is not for the sole purpose of teaching but is because of the animal agricultural industry and its continued exploitation of animals.