Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is trying to revolutionise the approach to educating children on animal welfare. The organisation workers bring specially designed robots to Scottish schools, to teach kids how to look after animals.
The animal robotics workshops were such a big success in Dundee that the charity invested in developing the technology further to make the robots more responsive and engaging for the kids. Next year, the robots will be completed with faces, which will be able to react. They will smile or frown based on how the kids think an animal would feel in certain situations.
Gilly Mendes Ferreira who is the head of education and policy at the Scottish SPCA, said: “Sometimes kids struggle to understand that animals have feelings, depending on where that child’s grown up. They might not know how to read empathy because they weren’t shown it when they were younger, so we help them understand that animals have feelings too and how to recognise them."
“For example, cats are really good at telling you how they feel, they will make it quite obvious if they don’t want you to approach them, but dogs are so eager to please and kids can sometimes smother them and that’s when you end up with dog bites.”
At the moment, the organisation owns four animal robots – Campbell cat, Rhu rabbit, Oscar Owl and Caitlyn chicken.
During the workshops, children are encouraged to think about how the animal might feel in a certain situation and how they would react if approached. They use imaginary scenarios, for example, a cat stuck in a fence. The kids learn how to use software and properly code the robots themselves.
Gilly said: “We can’t take real animals into schools as it would be too frightening for them, given the reasons they come to us, so we decided to take on this unique approach, which is more engaging for the kids.”
The kids learn how to act with animals, recognise their needs and how to take care of them.
The Scottish SPCA is currently the only organisation to be using robotics as educational tools. The charity workers also encourage children to contact them when they see an animal being mistreated, harmed or in a dangerous situation.
Gilly said: “There are two types of animal cruelty – deliberate or intentional and unintentional through lack of education. Often that comes from kids who don’t know things like if you pull a dog’s tail it won’t like it.”