Animal education is super important for children – but RSPCA South Australia would actually prefer that schools don’t keep live animals in the classroom.
Plenty of evidence exists proving that programs like chick hatching or classroom pets can seriously affect an animal’s welfare. In extreme cases, animals kept on school grounds suffer and sometimes die from neglect (often due to ignorance about an animal’s care needs) or cruelty.
Luckily, teachers can access some great alternatives to live animal experiments, allowing them to promote student learning without putting animals at risk.
What’s the pet issue?
Chick hatching programs usually run for two to three weeks. It begins with the delivery of a kit containing fertile eggs, the goal being to incubate the eggs successfully so that live chicks hatch for the students to raise.
Here are some common ways chick-hatching programs can go terribly wrong:
- Unskilled and/or untrained teachers using chick hatching equipment incorrectly, leading to poor temperature and humidity control.
- Suffering or death of chicks due to inappropriate and/or rough handling by children.
- Failure to notice injuries or illness of chicks, resulting in them not receiving timely veterinary care.
- Inadequate maintenance of the chicks’ enclosure, resulting in disease.
- Inadequate food or water supplies resulting in starvation or dehydration.
- Incorrectly located incubator or brooding box resulting in chicks exposed to stressful levels of classroom noise, light and activity.
- Chicks sent home with children resulting in incorrect care or separation, transport or handling anxiety.
Thousands of chicks are hatched in Aussie classrooms each year
A study commissioned by RSPCA Victoria shows more than 1,000 chicks are hatched in classrooms in Western Australia and Victoria each year.
While no ethical committee oversees how many are hatched in South Australian classes, we dread to think how many are used here and nationally.
When the cuteness of the science experiment wears off, classes then have to decide what happens to the surviving chicks.
Having animals in schools is not a good way to teach kindness
Animals kept in classrooms often do not exhibit normal behaviour because they are in unnatural and at times stressful surroundings.
Furthermore, when the school day ends they still require care and monitoring. Yet this does not always happen.
Using live animals as a teaching tool raises concerns for RSPCA South Australia in regards to what we’re teaching children about the role of animals in our lives.
We must ensure all children learn about animals respectfully
RSPCA South Australia does not believe animals should be used for education or entertainment when that use threatens their welfare.
Disposing of animals once we have finished using them also ignores that these are sentient beings (not inanimate objects), every bit as capable of suffering as we are.
We believe teachers and parents should help children learn from a very young age about their responsibility to protect animals from harm and to ensure they have happy, healthy, enriched lives.
Keeping an animal in a classroom environment, far removed from that animal’s natural environment, can desensitise children to animal suffering and even cruelty.
Teacher’s witness mistreatment
According to RSPCA Victoria’s study, 61% of teachers would consider using a chick hatching program again – but those who experienced a problem with the program stated that they would not.
Quotes gathered during the study from Australian primary school teachers who witnessed firsthand the consequences of poor welfare standards for chicks in classrooms are very revealing.
“…eggs did not get rotated and we had chicks with splayed legs. We also had a case where the chicks got hugged to death. Hated the whole process and a few students questioned where the chickens’ mother was,” one teacher reported.
‘Sometimes the chicks are malformed and have to be euthanized’
Said another teacher: “…one chicken had a gammy leg. I took it home each night and nursed it. The company took several days to come and take it away, which upset me.”
One teacher said they were “very concerned” about the chickens’ welfare, as teaching staff were not adequately trained on proper care.
“The chickens were allowed to be taken home with the children, which I think they would have found distressing, being transported inappropriately and handled by different people all the time. As much as it was good for the children to see something new and witness new life, I didn’t like the entertainment factor of having animals passed around,” the teacher said.
Students learn more with online resources than a two-week hatching program
Thankfully, a far more ethical and humane option for teaching students about animals exists.
The internet has a wealth of factual videos and investigations into animals and how to care for them. With teacher guidance, children can learn far more about breeding chickens, for example, than they will learn in a two-to-three week hatching program.
You can educate children without having to bring a single animal into the classroom.
RSPCA’s World of Animal Welfare (WOAW) website has multiple lesson plans and ideas for teachers seeking ethical ways to educate students about animals, including an alternate lesson series that covers information provided via chick hatching programs.
But what about Agricultural Schools?
We understand that schools running permanent and comprehensive agricultural subjects offer students the hands-on experience needed to become a part of the animal production industry.
However, all teaching using live animals must still be carried out in accordance with the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes, which requires proposals to be assessed and endorsed by an animal ethics committee.
In South Australia, all public and non-governmental schools must follow the Standard Operating Procedures for the use of Animals in Schools as defined in 2013 by Department of Education and the Animal Ethics Committee.
RSPCA does not support the keeping, breeding or use of live animals in any schools other than agricultural high schools adhering to these strict guidelines.
Want to know more about the risks of school chick hatching programs? Please visit RSPCA’s Knowledgebase article.