Gilly Mendes Ferreira: Robot war on animal cruelty for children

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Soon children across ­Scotland will be introduced to Caitlyn the chicken. Together with her friends Campbell the cat, Rhu the rabbit and Oscar the owl, they will be encouraging ­children to play their part in ensuring that ­every child takes on the role of being a responsible animal citizen in their local community.

No, these are not live animals ­making their way into the classroom, but actually robots. The ­Scottish SPCA is delighted to announce that we have formed a partnership with Robo Wunderkind, an organisation which provides a fun and natural way to introduce children to robotics and coding.

Thanks to Tesco’s Bags of Help grants we are able to offer this as an exciting new challenge to pupils within the primary sector as part of the Society’s 2019 free Prevention through Education programme.

We have demonstrated through years of research with Professor Jo Williams and the team at the ­University of Edinburgh that our ­education programme has a significant effect on a child’s knowledge about animals, their understanding about what animals need and their belief that animals have feelings, leading to more empathetic and ­compassionate behaviours.

We have also identified that ­children form strong attachments to their pets and how this attachment, together with positive ­attitudes about animals, may result in a range of key outcomes for both children (such as reduced aggression, better well-being and quality of life) and pets (such as humane treatment).

As well as having a proactive approach to teaching animal ­welfare to Scottish pupils, Animal Guardians was launched to take on a more ­targeted role by really ­striving to break the cycle between animal ­cruelty and violent crime.

After successfully being piloted in Edinburgh we are now expanding the Animal Guardians ­service to Glasgow.

It has become ­evident through this programme and ­previous research that adverse ­childhood experiences such as abuse, victimisation and bullying can play a pivotal role in the likelihood that a child will engage in animal ­cruelty. ­

So how can robots and coding be used to teach animal welfare? As part of our new workshops children will be given the opportunity to build ­different types of animals out of Robo Wunderkind’s unique blocks, ­sensors and Lego, so that their robot looks like a rabbit, owl, chicken or cat and then code their robotic animals so that they move and make sounds.

The ultimate goal is to encourage children to recognise that live ­animals are actually born with these ‘inbuilt’ sensors and how important it is that we are aware of their senses when interacting with them.

This unique new addition to the Scottish SPCA’s Prevention through Education programme will be a great tool that will capture children’s ­imagination, encourage them to have fun and be creative, and emphasise how amazing animals really are.

The University of Edinburgh will be integral in evaluating how this ­evolution of the Scottish SPCA’s ­education programme really makes an impact on a child’s ability to engage in ­animal welfare education, and ­ultimately have a positive ­influence on ensuring we have responsible ­animal citizens in the future.

Our new programme will also link very well with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ­curriculum, which puts a real focus on problem-based learning so that the pupils can instantly apply the knowledge they’re gaining and build on a skill set that is required in the modern world. This exciting new free initiative will be available from 3 January onwards, so if you are a teacher and would like your class to join Caitlyn, Campbell, Rhu and Oscar on their adventures,we are taking bookings now, so please get in touch with the education team on 03000 999 999 or email education
@scottish
spca.org.

Gilly Mendes Ferreira is head of education and policy at the Scottish SPCA.