The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes states that animals may be used for teaching only when there are no suitable alternatives available for achieving the educational objectives.
School communities determine educational objectives in response to the following:
- Board of Studies syllabus requirements
- Government and system priorities
- Community needs
- Student learning needs.
In the context of the above, the following objectives relating to animals may be derived for inclusion in the school’s curriculum:
O1. Developing students’ skills in relation to responsible animal care and management.
O2. Developing students’ skills in observing animals to enhance their understanding of the behavioural characteristics of species.
O3. Developing students’ skills of investigation where the purpose is to improve methods of animal management or to improve production.
O4. Assisting students to develop empathy with and respect for animals.
It is essential that students learn that responsible animal care and management involves knowledge of the needs of animals (physical and behavioural). The course and stage of learning will determine the type of animal to be used and the level of practical involvement of students.
Where the course of study requires that an animal is subjected to procedures that cause considerable pain and distress (such as tail docking or the castration of lambs), it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that students receive the appropriate amount and type of
training before they attempt the procedure. It is also the teacher’s responsibility to obtain written SACEC approval before students carry out the procedures if required.
Teachers should be aware that, in developing students’ skills in relation to responsible animal care and management, they are role models and should at all times apply the principles of “best practice”.
To train students to observe, a variety of sources may be used. These sources may include photos and videos (secondary sources) as well as the students’ own observations of live animals (primary sources).
The third objective arises in the context of Board of Studies syllabuses in agriculture and science. Students will usually replicate previous experiments (e.g. enriching the animal’s environment, such as a budgerigar’s cage or guinea pig’s pen, food palatability trials, comparisons of egg production between free range and battery caged hens).
Where these replications are known to have low impact on the animal (category 2 or 3 approved activities), they are included in the list of approved activities in the appropriate category.
Given that our relationship with animals is an important aspect of the human condition, schools should not avoid helping students to build shared knowledge and understanding about them. Thus students should be given opportunities in the school context to learn about the diversity and appropriateness of the range of relationships between animals and humans.
Students from a great diversity of backgrounds and experiences attend schools throughout the state. While schools must respect the diversity of attitudes that this brings they must also ensure that students develop empathy with and respect for animals.
There is no absolutely certain way to ensure that students acquire desirable attitudes towards animals but research has shown that teachers are powerful role models. This means that the way teachers work with animals and the attitudes that are apparent in
the teachers’ care and handling of animals will strongly influence the attitudes students develop toward animals.
Whenever a decision about using animals for teaching activities is made, it is essential that the 3Rs filter is applied to all activities. The “3Rs filter” is a term to flag that consideration should be given to:
- the replacement of animals with other methods
- the reduction in the number of animals used
- the refinement of techniques used to reduce the impact on animals.