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The Scottish SPCA, and the University of Edinburgh have created and trialled a new computer game as another tool for preventing animal cruelty being committed by young people.
Scotland’s animal welfare charity, together with the University of Edinburgh, designed the game to encourage children aged between 7 and 12 to engage with positive and safe interactions with animals.
Research into the impact of playing the ‘Pet Welfare’ game, involved 184 primary school aged children from across Scotland and the results indicated that the game had a positive impact on knowledge about animal welfare, knowledge on appropriate and safe behaviour towards pets and the recognition of animals as sentient beings. The results of the study will be of huge benefit to those wishing to promote positive and safe relationships between children and animals.
Professor Jo Williams from the University of Edinburgh stated that ‘70% of children have pets but accidental cruelty is common. This new ‘serious computer game’ is designed to be engaging for children and we have shown it promotes their learning about pets’ welfare needs and how to look after pets. The game is aligned to the Curriculum for Excellence, develops children’s science concepts, and promotes positive behaviour change towards pet animals.
Dr Roxanne Hawkins, from the University of the West of Scotland, who developed the game as part of her PhD research, highlighted that ‘The game is based on three interactive levels based on the pets found to experience the most incidents of animal cruelty, dogs, cats and rabbits. Through the multiple levels within the game, children learn important information about the five animal welfare needs, specific to each pet type, learn that pet animals are sentient, and learn about what is appropriate and safe behaviour towards each pet type. A key goal of this game was to prevent multiple types of animal cruelty, but particularly accidental cruelty which is common in childhood.
‘‘Pet Welfare’ includes e-learning tools which allow interactive educational materials to be used alongside the game. ‘The results are very promising, with the game having a significant impact on knowledge, attitudes and belief in animal minds.
Scottish SPCA head of education and policy Gilly Mendes Ferreira said, ‘The Scottish SPCA believes the heart of prevention is education. We reach around 245,000 school children each year to promote positive interactions with animals and for young people to recognise that animals have feelings.
‘Our ongoing research-based programmes enable us to continue engaging with young people using the best innovative teaching methods we can. Through our partnership with Robo Wunderkind we have started using more technology as a unique tool for teaching animal welfare through the use of robotics, involving teamwork, coding and overall linking more with the STEM curriculum, something that many schools are now encouraging. This programme is currently being evaluated by the University of Edinburgh team.
‘Animal Guardians an educational programme that helps nurture empathy and compassion towards animals and is offered to children who have sadly been cruel to, or even killed, animals has now expanded to many areas across Scotland and through ongoing research, we will continue evaluating the impact these programmes are having on attitudes towards animals, recognising them as sentient beings and overall preventing animal cruelty and neglect.
‘We want to create fun, reward-based, interactive child-friendly digital games that promote positive child-animal interactions that can be offered both through our schools programme, as part of Animal Guardians and via our website and ‘Pet Welfare’ has brought us a step closer to achieving this.
‘The in-depth study, surrounding ‘Pet Welfare’, together with previous research we have conducted with the University of Edinburgh relating to a Farm Animal Welfare app, demonstrate the benefits of incorporating technology and game-based learning into animal cruelty prevention.
‘Previous research has shown that most cruelty towards animals in childhood is often accidental and education is the key to promoting safe interaction with animals.
‘We strive to inspire and find new ways of teaching animal welfare and this research is an important educational step for animal cruelty prevention.’