Children's computer game fights cruelty to animals

A computer game designed to prevent animal cruelty by young people is set to be rolled out at schools across Scotland.

Computer game designed by Scottish SPCA and University of Edinburgh aims to teach primary pupils how to care for animals.
Computer game designed by Scottish SPCA and University of Edinburgh aims to teach primary pupils how to care for animals.

The Scottish SPCA animal welfare charity and the University of Edinburgh have created and trialled the game, which is designed to encourage children between the age of seven and 12 to engage positively and safely with animals.

Research into the ‘Pet Welfare’ game found it had a positive impact on knowledge about animal welfare, appropriate and safe behaviour towards pets and recognising animals as sentient beings.

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The game, played by 184 children during a pilot project, is to be developed further with more games and apps being explored before it is rolled out across the rest of the country.

Last September The Scotsman revealed a four-year-old child had been referred to the charity’s Scottish Animal Guardians programme after killing a pair of kittens.

Professor Jo Williams, from the university’s clinical and health psychology department, said the new game could benefit children in many ways.

“Seventy per cent of children have pets, but accidental cruelty is common,” she said.

“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, who developed the game as part of her PhD research, said its three interactive levels were based on pets which experience the highest incidents of cruelty – dogs, cats and rabbits. Gilly Mendes Ferreira, the SPCA’s head of education and policy, said almost 245,000 school children were reached annually to promote positive interactions.

“Our ongoing research based programmes enable us to continue engaging with young people using the best innovative teaching methods we can,” she said. “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.”

Ms Ferreira added: “Animal Guardians, an educational programme helping 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.

“This research is an important educational step for animal cruelty prevention.”