Animals Used in Education and Training

Archaic teaching exercises using live animals or animals who were killed so they could be dissected have no place in the modern classroom. Yet, to the detriment of both students and animals, these unethical practices still go on – in schools, universities and military training facilities – despite the availability of superior, humane alternatives.

Schooled in Cruelty

ScalpelIn schools across the country, students are asked to cut open animals such as rats, frogs, fish and rabbits in crude dissection exercises. For A-level biology students, dissection is even required as part of the official curriculum set by the Department for Education.

Where do the animals or parts of animals used in these lessons come from? Schools usually purchase them through biological suppliers who may either breed and kill the animals themselves – typically after keeping them in barren cages for the entirety of their short lives – or acquire them from pet shops, abattoirs or animal dealers. In the US, investigations into biological supply companies revealed rampant acts of cruelty, including the drowning of rabbits and the embalming of cats who were still alive.

Dissection is just as bad for children as it is for animals. Studies have found that these gory activities can foster callousness towards animals and nature in some students, and many others are deeply uncomfortable with the whole process, finding the pressure to mutilate animals’ bodies in science lessons a traumatising experience. Some may be permanently put off pursuing a career in science. And of course, it isn’t necessary for students to cut up animals in order to understand basic anatomy and physiology, as many humane non-animal teaching methods, such as computer models and sophisticated simulators, are available.

Thankfully, in the UK, schools aren’t allowed to obtain licences for students to conduct experiments on live animals, although higher education and vocational training colleges may receive permission to carry out these nightmarish animal labs.

Universities and Veterinary and Medical Schools

When it comes to higher education, many institutions have very different policies in place concerning the use of animals for teaching purposes. For example, many veterinary schools in the UK choose not to source animals specifically for invasive surgery practice or will only use animals who’ve died of natural causes. Instead, clinical surgical training takes place during extramural rotations in which students are on placement in veterinary practices and work with animals who have genuine veterinary needs.

Of course, many UK universities are unfortunately home to some of the most notorious animal research laboratories, where animals such as cats, mice and monkeys endure frightening and painful procedures at the hands of experimenters. As courses at these facilities are based on physiological or pharmaceutical principles, students may be required to cut up animals in order to practise basic surgical techniques, examine exposed organs in live animals or even drug animals to induce heart attacks during experiments.

Military Training Drills

In horrific trauma-training exercises, live animals such as goats and pigs are shot, stabbed, dismembered, blown up and burned in drills for military surgeons. Although modern, non-animal training methods, such as high-tech simulators, have proved to be more effective at preparing doctors for the front line, a handful of countries – including the UK, the US, Denmark and the Netherlands – persist in using archaic and unethical drills with live animals.

Denmark trauma training shooting live pig© Jørn Stjerneklar

PETA and our international affiliates have been campaigning hard against these horrific procedures and made significant progress in many areas. In 2013, Poland’s army ditched live-animal training methods following pressure from compassionate people. And in 2014, the US military agreed to end its use of animals in six key areas of medical training.

The Humane Alternatives

Thanks to technological advances, a wide range of non-animal teaching methods now exist that have been shown to convey complex anatomical and biological processes as well as – or better than – cruel, archaic and environmentally destructive animal labs, while instilling in students respect for animals’ lives.

These methods include sophisticated computer software and strikingly life-like human simulators. Unlike dissection and live-animal laboratories, in which students have one opportunity to perform a procedure and learn the requisite content, non-animal methods allow students to repeat the material until they’re proficient and confident, without the distraction of potentially mutilating or harming an animal. And for those who are learning to treat people rather than animals, humane methods that model human anatomy and physiology are available as well.

Students at nearly every medical school are now taught using a combination of didactic methods, human-patient simulators, interactive computer programmes, safe human-based teaching methods and clinical experience. This represents considerable progress for animals, society and future generations of doctors.

What You Can Do

  • Speak out! If you attend school or are the parent of someone who does, ask instructors not to include animal dissection as part of the course’s curriculum. Remember: you have the right to opt out of lessons that involve cutting up dead animals. If you’re a teacher, offer your students an alternative assignment, such as plant dissection.
  • If you’re a student who’s interested in pursuing an animal-based or higher education life-sciences course, contact colleges or universities directly to enquire about their use of animals before you apply.
  • If you work at an educational institution and are concerned about the use of animals, please contact PETA.
  • Help put pressure on the governments of countries that still use live-animal training methods in military drills by taking action here.