As part of our Stop the Otago Animal Labs Campaign, for the past year we have been emphasizing the need for the university to move away from harmful teaching methods using animals. We have been encouraging them to implement innovative humane teaching methods instead!
This month, we held an event at the University of Otago itself, to talk about the very important issue: the harming of animals for teaching purposes! We invited University of Otago staff, students and the public to attend and be part of the conversation. This included Professor Richard Blaikie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Enterprise.
We started the evening with a presentation from our Campaign Manager, Niki Moore, called "Humane Education- Could It Be In Otago's Future?"
We discussed that as a rule, universities always use traditional teaching methods, such as lectures held by professors or text book curriculum. But often on top of this, there are activities or exercises that the students are required to participate in as part of their course work. A lot of the time, the exercise is used to reinforce information that the students have already been taught, through these more traditional teaching methods. Some of these exercises involve the harmful use of animals.
What did we mean by the "harmful use of animals?" We explained to the audience that when we say this, we are talking about 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 the individual subject i.e. that specific animal involved.
Current Use of Animals
We went on to talk about the current use of animals for teaching. Animals are harmfully used for a variety of different teaching exercises, with some common examples being:
- animal dissection
- behavioural experiments
- chemical manipulation
- surgical or clinical practice
All these examples are used at the University of Otago in one way or another. (It is important to know, that they do not teach any veterinary studies.) In 2017, just shy of 18'000 animals were used that year for research, testing and teaching at Otago. Although it is hard to isolate the exact number of animals used for teaching at the university, we know it is in the thousands.
Humane Education Options
Then we got to the fun part of the presentation — showing off some teaching methods that are humane! Because there are so many different kinds, we made this a snapshot and just talked about a few examples of software, anatomical models and simulation manikins.
There is a range of software programs designed to teach human and animal anatomy, and these can replace the animals used by Otago for dissection exercises.
One of the companies that we discussed was the amazing Biosphera, who have a human anatomy program as well as multiple animal-anatomy programs e.g. rat, frog, dog. This software is available in a desktop or smartphone option, and allows for the species internal systems to be viewed and manipulated layer by layer or simultaneously with other layers at high detail.
You can see this for yourself by clicking here.
Key Benefits of Using Humane Education Methods
The next point we wanted to discuss was reasons why the University of Otago should be choosing to use the widely available humane options instead of harming animals.
A few points we covered was:
- Animals are Saved!
- This one is obvious but when thousands of animals are suffering and dying, we have to stand up and loudly say it.
- Student Well Being!
- No student is going to be negatively emotionally impacted by using a humane teaching method. However the same cannot be said for options that harm animals. For the students who do not disconnect with what is happening, they can be left with psychological trauma.
- Academic Outcome!
- Students perform equivalent or better when using non-animal teaching methods. It has been found that cognitive processes and performance can be impacted by a negative emotional state, therefore the students that are uneasy when participating in the animal-based teaching exercise, may not learn or retain information as well.
The Logic of Animal Teaching Methods
So why would any institute want to still use animals harmfully for teaching methods? We quickly wanted to say what we have noticed it often boils down too… CONVENIENCE.
Because these teaching methods have been around a long time, it is easy to predict and manage in curriculum. It has all been done before therefor there is not a lot to figure out. To this we say, that is a poor excuse to not change things! Just because you have been doing this for a long time, doesn't mean it is now the best method, nor is it humane. There is always room to improve and when you are doing relatively the same thing for up to 150 years, there are going to be better technologies to come out in that time.
The Global Shift
On a global scale, there is a significant change happening in education.
Some countries have banned animal dissection entirely in curriculum, others have prohibited certain aspects of harmful animal-use in education.
In 2016, the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine announced that all Surveyed U.S. and Canadian Medical Schools are free of live animals use now. Following this, in 2018, they reported that there are now no known live animals used in Pediatrics Residency programs in these countries either!
Read more on the global shift towards humane education here.
It was important for us to share with everyone what our vision is for the University of Otago in regards to teaching, as part of our Stop The Otago Animal Labs Campaign.
The global shift is happening in education, and we want to see Otago lead the way in NZ and no longer use animals harmfully for teaching methods. We want this for the animals, but also for the students.
The University of Otago could choose to be at the forefront of this shift in New Zealand, but if they don't get a move on, they will lose this opportunity, and eventually be forced to change regardless. We are already seeing positive changes being made in other institutes around New Zealand, which we will share with the public in the near future, and we would like the University of Otago to be at the forefront of that. We want to be able to share something positive about this university for once, instead of having to announce another horrendous decision by Otago.
Using teaching methods that involve harming animals is not acceptable, it is not necessary, and it is not humane. Let’s get excited about using modern innovative teaching methods.
Humane education is in Otago’s future, because it’s already becoming the present elsewhere. The real question is, how soon will the University of Otago step into the future, instead of staying in the past?
After the Presentation
Our guest Professor Richard Blaikie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Enterprise at the university, came up and shared his thoughts with the audience on the material we shared. We thank him for attending and for openly communicating with us in public.
The time for Questions and Answers began and this allowed us to hear the different opinions and concerns that the attendees had. We feel that most of the people who chose to speak were highly in favor of the change we wanted at Otago.
The last question was aimed at Professor Richard Blaikie. A member of the public said that this was not the first time that he had heard a claim from the University of Otago saying that they were innovators, always working to improve including with their use of animals. He wanted to know if Richard could give us any kind of measurable objective or commitment. He could not.
We are currently in the process of finding out whether the University of Otago will give us a commitment of change, or if they will continue fighting against the inevitable change that will eventually occur regardless if they like it or not.
We hope they make the right decision, and if they do, we will be there to help them. If not… we will keep pushing forward for the the animals and students until they are safe.