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Cutting out dissection in classrooms

Every year a Zoology student as part of his undergraduate study dissects at least five specimens each of cockroaches, prawns, pila, fish, garden lizards, frogs and rats. At least 19 million insects and animals are removed from their habitats each year for this purpose alone.

To put an end to this large-scale killing of animals, the University Grants Commission (UGC), New Delhi, recently brought out guidelines to reduce animal dissection in laboratories for courses in higher education in a phased manner.

While there continue to be voices of both assent and dissent among faculty members to this set of guidelines, a meeting was recently held in Chennai where experts discussed various alternative learning methods that could replace dissection.

The thrust at the meeting was to revamp the curriculum of zoology students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. “Understanding the biology of animals in their natural environment, an aspect of ‘Live Zoology' will be much more exciting than dissecting animals caught in the wild, which can affect the ecological balance,” says M.A. Akbarsha, Director and Chair, Mahatma Gandhi-Doerenkamp Center (MGDC) for Alternatives to Use of Animals in Life Science Education, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi.

In the present context, learning dissection does not add value in any way to students of zoology as while 10 per cent of students went on to pursue postgraduation, a majority of them either took up teaching or jobs in other areas, he adds.

In all the developed countries dissection has been removed from the curriculum of life science courses. At the Chennai meeting, it was agreed to completely eliminate dissection at the undergraduate level. It was also decided that the postgraduate students can be familiarised with handling animals and experimentation since a section of them would go on to pursue research.

Experts stress the need to accommodate the latest developments in the subjects. There has been a tremendous expansion of knowledge content of zoology in the light of emergence of newer branches such as biodiversity, biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology, the study of which will in turn reduce the need for learning anatomy that requires dissection.

Digital alternatives such as simulated dissections and various Information and Communications Technologies-based pedagogical tools could be used to replace dissection.

Asking universities to constitute ‘Dissection Monitoring Committees' to look into the use of animals, the UGC would sponsor three to five-day dedicated workshops for this purpose through Academic Staff Colleges / University Departments / Colleges, with the help of organisations that have expertise in the field.

Experts also say that field visits and project works will help students learn biodiversity better. This emerging area will help students understand how animals and plants behave in their natural environment and also their role in ecology, they say.

In this context, the UGC guideline also talks about the need to include ‘Animal Ethics' as a chapter in an appropriate course of study. “Molecular system is another emerging area which should be included in the curriculum. It only requires samples and therefore does not require killing specimen,” notes Mr. Akbarsha.

“Learning anatomy from a live species or from a diagram is in no way different. Ultimately, there is no value addition. Therefore even models, diagrams can be used,” he adds.  

In case where animals are used, experts say that the animals need not be deliberately collected from the wild for this purpose but availed from sources such as fish market, slaughter houses and clinical labs. Where animals are unavoidably used, as in physiology experiments, they are not to be killed or even subjected to stress, and should be returned to the environment after the experiments, experts note.


Source: The Hindu

Wednesday , 21   December , 2011