Animals in Education

Elementary/Secondary Education

Across North America, dissection of real animal specimens remains a prevalent practice in elementary and secondary science education (79% of science teachers in British Columbia still do dissection with their students). Key species used include frogs, rats, fetal pigs, and more. While many of these animals are purpose bred by supply companies, some are wild-caught (marine species are often by-catch from the fishing industry), and some are acquired via the food production industry.

Some of the key issues with elementary and secondary school dissection are as follows:

  1. It is a completely unregulated practice
  2. It embeds a cultural attitude that using animals as tools instead of subjects in science is ok
  3. It harms the environment through use of harsh chemical preservatives
  4. It costs schools hundreds of dollars per year
  5. It necessarily excludes many students

Of the hundreds of school districts across Canada, only a few have a student choice policy in place. A student choice policy grants students the right to opt out of dissection without penalty and requires that teachers give prior notice of the dissection, and meaningful alternatives to those who opt out. To date, Abbotsford, Burnaby, Toronto, Vancouver, and West Vancouver school districts have student choice policies in place.

What are the alternatives?

While there are a great many different types of non-animal alternatives for dissection (like videos, photographs, etc.) at AiSPI we prefer to use interactive learning tools (like 3D models and virtual dissections). Non-animal alternatives to dissection have been shown to be at least as effective, if not better than dissection in terms of how well they help students meet their learning goals. Non-animal alternatives can also save schools a significant amount of time and money each year. Watch this space for our searchable alternatives database, which will prove a comprehensive list of all the non-animal alternatives suitable for elementary/secondary level education – in the meantime, feel free contact us if you have any questions.

Tertiary Education (college, university, medical and veterinary school)

In 2016 431, 742 animals were used in higher education in Canada, A wide variety of species are used in all kinds of educational programs – everything from behaviour labs to dissection. While the use of all animals in classrooms is important to consider, at AiSPI we are currently focused on replacing animals used for dissection.

Some of the key issues with tertiary level animal use in education are as follows:

  1. A regulatory loophole means that most animals used for dissection are not under the national oversight, or counted in national numbers
  2. Dissection and other uses of animals embeds a cultural norm among students that animals are tools, rather than subjects
  3. Animals are expensive
  4. Use of animals excludes certain students

At the university level, student choice policies might exist in theory, but in reality, universities tend to make the courses that require dissection optional, rather than making the dissection itself optional. This means that a certain percentage of students choose alternate courses, and some biological science disciplines may be losing talented students to other disciplines that do not require dissection.

What are the alternatives?

There are many different replacement alternatives for tertiary level education: everything from computer simulations for physiology, to clay modelling for advanced anatomy, to “Trauma Man” for training military medics! Watch this space for a comprehensive list of alternatives suited to tertiary education – in the meantime contact us if you have any questions.

Professional Training (e.g. animal research technicians)

Animals are used for the training of animal research technicians, who because of their role in animal research, are required to be competent in certain skills, including animal handling and taking blood samples.

Replacing animals in the training of professionals, like research technicians, might at first seems highly challenging. However, it is possible that the formal training, such as the Registered Laboratory Technician (RLAT) course can be done using non-animal alternatives. Then the research technician would learn animal handling skills on the job, under close supervision of a mentor – this would mirror the type of training medical surgeons receive, where they intern with qualified mentors and learn first by observation, then by doing tasks under close supervision, then only when the mentor assesses them as competent can they work alone.