A group of Grade 9 students from Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Secondary are advocating for a humane change in biology class.
Erin Work, Lexie Pfenning, Annabelle Lee, Lucia Nutley and Caitlin Mahony want their school — and the entire Central Okanagan School District — to phase out physical animal dissections and switch over to virtual dissections instead.
They argue that using technology to understand biology has many positive impacts, including students avoiding trauma when it’s time to cut open an animal, as well as making it more inclusive for students, who for religious or cultural reasons may not be able to participate in dissection, among others.
“It’s actually been proven that 88 per cent of students learn better using alternatives over actual animal dissections,” Pfenning said. “These alternatives have been classroom-tested to give the same, and in many cases a better level, of education. It’s cost-effective, it’s ethical… it reduces our environmental footprint.”
The group said they have all been passionate about animal rights for a long time but they saw an opportunity to act through the competition Sustainable Development Challenge.
The group, called Our Voice for Change, first reached out to the BC SPCA to help them achieve their goal. The non-profit then helped them connect with the Society for Humane Science, a charity that works to “achieve better science without animals”. The charity’s founder and CEO Elisabeth Ormandy said this means helping students, schools and school districts access alternative resources.
Ormandy said there are various tools that can help teach biology, including apps for tablets that enable students to “build” an animal, as well as other apps divided into body systems that enable students to “dissect” a specimen, as well as virtual reality programs.
“There are other tools that aren’t as tech-involved. Clay modelling is extremely good for education where you have a plastic skeleton and you can put in the animal’s internal organs yourself. There are some paper kits as well, where you cut out organs and ‘build’ the animal,” she said.
Ormandy and Our Voice for Change are now working together to form a pitch for the competition, hoping the group will win a grant, which can help them get the project off the ground and operational in their school to begin.
But the group said even if they don’t win the competition, they want to push forward with their project and hope that the entire school district takes it on.
“We’ve gotten quite a positive response, but of course there are those who are hesitant or are against the use of alternatives but quite often after we’ve explained the details of it and the pros and cons, they’re very open-minded,” Lee said.
Our Voice for Change will be presenting their project pitch on Feb. 24.