Are you involved with your local schools when it comes to animals in the classroom? If not, you may want to consider it. In the United States, national, state, and local agencies do not regulate animal use in precollege instruction, and sometimes this lack of oversight leads to inappropriate uses.
According to Lynette Hart, PhD, a University of California-Davis associate professor of veterinary population health and reproduction, veterinarians need to become involved and help establish guidelines for animal use in precollege education. She also advocates evaluating pertinent educational resources for kindergarten through grade 12 education and assessing a model prototype that would provide administrative guidance and oversight regarding animal use. Dr. Hart spoke at the Fourth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, held in August in New Orleans.
"One of the challenges for precollege education concerns the husbandry and handling of live animals in the classroom. Veterinarians can provide the best assistance in developing plans for appropriate husbandry," Dr. Hart said. "If a committee is formed in a school district to review protocols for animal use, it would be essential to include a veterinarian on the committee."
The use of animals in education has grown since the 1980s. Teachers use animals in the classroom in a variety of ways, including as pets or dissection specimens. Their use provides opportunities for detailed observation of the behavior, function, structure, and life cycles of animals. Studies have found that they motivate students and facilitate education on reproduction, social interactions, and death. They also provide a context to study environmental factors and assume responsibility for animal welfare.
But many teachers are in dire need of supportive resource materials. According to a study of teachers in Stockton, Calif., although teachers incorporate animals into classroom activities, teachers often lack a formal curricular context for the animal's presence and many do not have a science background that they can draw upon when creating lessons.
"Teachers are always seeking improved methods," said Dr. Hart, a former eighth grade teacher. "They would welcome more supportive access to the kinds of materials that are now being developed for undergraduate and veterinary education."
To this end, the University of California-Davis has begun amassing educational materials on its Web site at www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/Animal_Alternatives/main.htm. In the coming year, the site will be expanded to include user-friendly search templates so teachers can quickly access teaching resources on a particular topic as well as research concerning the effectiveness of the various methods.
"Veterinarians at veterinary schools are involved in creating improved teaching resources, and these can easily be adapted for use in other teaching situations," Dr. Hart said. She encourages veterinarians to get involved.