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Prepared by Jan van der Valk and Marjolein van Boxel
 European Resource Centre for Alternatives in higher education (eurca)
 Netherlands Centre Alternatives to Animal Use (NCA)

The use of "alternative methods" is not a self-evident aspect of education. Research requires a clear hypothesis and defined endpoints, making the choice to use either animals or non-animal alternatives more clear-cut. In education, on the other hand, the learning objectives may be less precise, depending on the type of education, students, and curriculum. Here the choice for animals or alternatives mainly depends upon secondary criteria. Some people argue that education can do without the use of animals. Others accept the use of animal cadavers from ethical sources, while yet another group believes that animal experimentation is essential for certain studies.

There are several informative websites and lots of literature available on the use of animals and alternatives in education. In this brief introduction, we will touch upon some of the factors affecting the choice between animals and alternatives and give references to websites and literature that may serve as a more in depth introduction to this topic.

Animals in education

Most animals in education are used for additional demonstrations of the theoretical knowledge that is taught in the lecture room, mainly in the form of dissection and anatomy classes. Unfortunately, most of these animals have not been represented in animal use statistics, since most countries do not register animals that were killed prior to scientific procedures. Therefore, statistics give a false impression of the actual number of animals used in education.

Animals also are used in education is to teach experimental procedures on animals, i.e. learning and practicing laboratory skills. Other, more indirect objectives for using animals in education include practicing data handling skills, learning and practicing oral and written communication skills, developing responsible attitudes towards experimental animals, and demonstrating the dynamic processes of life (van der Valk et al., 1999). It is not easy to judge whether these objectives can be justified. Animal ethics committees and IACUCs sometimes find great difficulty in assessing such proposals. Many factors need to be taken into account, such as the type of education, type of students, future profession, other animal use in the curriculum, etc.

The type of education is important to consider, because in some countries animals are used in both primary and secondary education, as well as during vocational training and in higher education. It is the authors' strong opinion that, at least with respect primary and secondary schools, there is no learning objective that cannot be achieved as well or better by computer programs, (picture) books, good teaching, movies and, in some cases, slaughterhouse material. In all other cases, the use of animals in education should be critically assessed by a competent committee. Guiding principles for accepting animals in the classroom can be found in the reference list below. See especially (van der Valk et al., 1999), (Smith and Smith, 2004) and (Balcombe, 2000).

Alternatives in education

In education, "alternatives" generally means replacement-i.e., the use of animals is replaced by non-animal methods. Only in a few cases, mainly those focused on training experimental procedures or animal handling, does the use of non-animal models aim to reduce the number of animals used.

Varieties of alternatives. The following groups of alternatives can be identified (based on Jukes and Chiuia, 2003):

  • (3D-) Models, mannequins and mechanical simulators
  • Film and interactive video
  • Computer simulation and virtual reality
  • Self-experimentation and human studies
  • Plant experiments
  • Observational and field studies
  • Materials from slaughterhouses and fisheries
  • In vitro studies on cell lines
  • Animal cadavers from an animal-friendly and ethical source (e.g. naturally died and euthanized animals)
  • Clinical practice

A more extensive list of alternatives for different teaching procedures can be found in (Hart et al., 2005).

Reasons to use alternative methods in teaching. These fall into three broad categories: ethical, didactical, and economical.


Obviously, the same principle holds for animals in education as for animals in research: "No, unless..." Only when regarded as absolutely necessary should we allow animal use in the classroom. Classes involving animal use also may have negative psychological effects on students (Capaldo, 2004). Furthermore, such classes may not contribute to the proper attitude-building of students, i.e. that animals deserve respect and have an intrinsic value.


Non-animal models may be developed not only for ethical reasons but primarily for didactic reasons. Advantages of alternative methods include the following (van der Valk et al., 1999):

  • a specific animal experiment may only be offered once, whereas an alternative model can be used over and over again without constraints on time and location;
  • alternative models can offer unambiguous and complete data and thus avoid the negative learning experience of an "unsuccessful experiment;"
  • many alternatives have built-in self-assessment to allow students to gauge whether staged learning objectives have been achieved;
  • alternatives that make use of modern audio-visual techniques offer the possibility to demonstrate phenomena that normally cannot be observed in the animal experiment, through the use of animations of organ and cell functions, fly-through organ systems, etc.

It has been shown that students who use computer simulations acquire knowledge just as well as students who use animals. The primary learning objectives are equally well achieved (Dewhurst et al., 1994). Computer-assisted learning (CAL) can address many learning objectives and increase student-staff interaction. CAL also results in lower costs lower than when using animals. Moreover, student responses are positive about the use of CAL. A more recent study (Hughes, 2001) showed that the marks of students using simulations were significantly better than those of students performing the traditional wet labs.


Animal use in education is expensive. The required animal care and housing makes an animal class costly, as does the higher number of staff and the time needed to supervise and organize animal experiments. Although some educational alternatives are expensive to purchase, they only have to be bought once and then can be used repeatedly over time, thereby saving money in the long run.

Where do we find the alternatives?

The following sources can be consulted for information on alternatives (van der Valk et al., 1999)

  • other teachers
  • students who object to participating in animal experiments and find their own alternative exercises
  • by developing alternatives themselves, either alone or with others within their institutions
  • conferences and trade fairs
  • educational material marketing resources
  • online databases, e.g., NORINA, eurca (see below)
  • outreach tours e.g., InterNICHE, and publications
  • loan programs from various institutions and organizations

Relevant information sources on alternatives in education

The following organizations support the use of alternatives in education by providing information on the availability of many models through their websites.

European Resource Centre for Alternatives in Higher Education (EURCA)

"eurca" actively promotes the use of alternatives to using animals in higher education. It aims to provide a mechanism for effective dissemination of information about alternatives to using animals in higher education. The online eurca database includes a limited number of alternatives but with extensive information on each model, based on hands-on experience and detailed reviews by fellow teachers. Also, for many of the models, practical information and reviews are available from users. EURCA website.

InterNICHE: The International Network for Humane Education

InterNICHE supports progressive science teaching and the replacement of animal experiments by working with teachers to introduce alternatives and with students to support freedom of conscience. InterNICHE organizes outreach tours and has a loan system for alternatives. InterNICHE website.

NORINA Database: Audiovisual alternatives to the use of animals in teaching

NORINA is an online database containing information on over 3500 audiovisual aids that may be used as alternatives or supplements to the use of animals in teaching. NORINA website.

In conclusion

The use of animals in education should be carefully and critically assessed. Many alternative, animal-free models now are available to meet most of the learning objectives. In addition, available non-animal models (alternatives) have many advantages over the use of animals. A number of resources are available to assist the lecturer in making a well-considered choice of an alternative.


  • Balcombe, J. P. (2000). The use of animals in higher education: problems, alternatives, & recommendations: Humane Society Press.
  • Capaldo, T. (2004). The psychological effects on students of using animals in ways that they see as ethically, morally or religiously wrong. Altern Lab Anim, 32(Suppl. 1), 525-531.
  • Dewhurst, D. G., Hardcastle, J., Hardcastle, P. T. et al. (1994). Comparison of a computer simulation program and a traditional laboratory practical class for teaching the principles of intestinal absorption. Am J Physiol, 267(6 Pt 3), S95-104.
  • Hart, L. A., Wood, M. W. and Weng, H. Y. (2005). Mainstreaming alternatives in veterinary medical education: resource development and curricular reform. J Vet Med Educ, 32(4), 473-480.
  • Hughes, I. E. (2001). Do computer simulations of laboratory practicals meet learning needs? Trends Pharmacol Sci, 22(2), 71-74.
  • Jukes, N. and Chiuia, M. (2003). From guinea pig to computer mouse: alternative methods for a progressive, humane education. Leicester: InterNICHE.
  • Smith, A. J. and Smith, K. (2004). Guidelines for humane education: alternatives to the use of animals in teaching and training. ATLA, 32(Suppl. 1A), 29-39.
  • van der Valk, J., Dewhurst, D., Hughes, I. et al. (1999). Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Higher Education: The Report and Recommendations of ECVAM (European Centre for the Validation of Alternate Methods) Workshop 33. Alternatives To Laboratory Animals, 27(1), 39-52.

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