The positive impact of teaching school children about animal welfare

Hawkins, R. D., Williams, J. M., & Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (2017). Assessing Effectiveness of a Nonhuman Animal Welfare Education Program for Primary School Children. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 20(3), 240-256.

This study highlights the importance of incorporating animal welfare into the education of children, such education can help children gain better knowledge and treat animals with respect.

This study, conducted in 2017, evaluates the success of teaching school children (aged 7-13) about animal welfare.  An SPCA (Scottish Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) representative gave a presentation on one of four chosen subject areas: 'Scottish SPCA Animal-Friendly Citizens,' Wildlife Welfare,' 'You and Your pet,' or Food and Farm Animal Welfare.'  Each of the four lessons lasted one hour, and started with a 15-minute presentation about the SPCA followed by an activity and finally a question and answer session.    The children completed a 20-minute questionnaire the day before the lesson, the day after, and again six weeks later.  Areas assessed were knowledge, about animal’s needs and the SPCA, pet attachment, belief in animal sentience and attitudes towards domestic, wild, and farm animals.  Differences in these areas before and after the learning session were noted.

Knowledge of animal welfare and the SPCA increased in the long and short term

Belief in animal mind improved after two of the lessons (pets and farm animals).  There was also a general trend towards increased attachment to pets and improved overall attitude. However, the effect was not statistically significant, quite possibly because children were already scoring high in the pre-lesson questionnaire.

This study demonstrates that educating young school children about animal welfare is effective.  This is important in the prevention of both intentional and unintentional cruelty.  Better knowledge of animal’s needs will improve welfare, as will positive attitudes, stronger attachment to pets and belief in animal sentience.  More work needs to be done in developing this approach, however findings from this research highlight the importance of education of young people about animal welfare.

World Animal Protection’s view

We believe that this study provides good insight about the value of educating children about animal welfare.  This is important as it is likely that these children will use this knowledge when considering animals, and will hopefully lead to reduced cruelty and more ethical choices in relation to the products they purchase and consume.