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August 10, 2015

Training Teachers Across the Globe

Humane Society International

  • Workshop participants. HSA

She knew she had come to new territory when the view from her hotel room included a monkey climbing the rugged terrain across Bishoftu Lake. On the streets, horses and donkeys rushed carts of goods and people in opposite directions. Some on a brief break stood motionless in the middle, the breeze from cars and other animals en route whisking away bothersome flies.

Stephanie Itle-Clark, Ed. D, CHES, The HSUS Humane Society Academy’s Director of Learning, was invited to Ethiopia by Stephen Albone, Ph.D., CHES, Education Programme Advisor for SPANA, a UK-based global organization for working animals. Since 2002, SPANA has provided veterinary care to the large population of working equids in this second-most-populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world's poorest nations. On this day in June, SPANA Ethiopia Country Director, veterinarian Nigatu Aklilu — who is normally busy running free mobile clinics, sometimes treating 63 horses in a day — is joining them. Instead of treating wounds from hot-iron branding or educating owners on the prevention of hoof abscesses and lameness, Aklilu’s audience is teachers at the Akaki Primary School. His time with them has the potential to impact hundreds of students and their families in years to come and prevent countless animals from ever having to visit a clinic in pain.

“The people who work these animals are generally very poor, and the animals themselves have very low status,” said Albone. “One of the biggest problems faced by working animals is malnutrition, as their owners cannot afford to feed them properly. Many animals suffer from wounds as a result of the type of work that they do, caused by inhumane bits and poorly fitting harnesses. These wounds leave the animal susceptible to infectious disease [as well]. Veterinary care is very expensive. It is often cheaper to simply buy a new animal…[And] animals that are too weak or sick to work are often abandoned to suffer a long, lingering death.” What’s worse, according to Albone, is that poor welfare is something that children are constantly exposed to and are likely to perpetuate.

Quickly realizing that education is the key to improving life for animals, SPANA established school partnerships and humane education centers in the three towns where large populations of working horses exist and their regular veterinary clinics are held: Debra Brehan, Akaki, and Debre Zeit. Their focus has been on setting up extracurricular animal welfare clubs that lead primary students in learning about our responsibilities to animals in captivity, in the streets, and those used for food through fun activities like games and creating artwork. “Our program is intended to break [the] cycle by positively changing the way that children think and feel about the animals in their communities,” noted Albone. After a positive 2011-2012 evaluation of the program that found a significant positive impact on children, SPANA gained the support of three regional Bureaus of Education to expand the clubs to 50 schools.

With the clubs being very popular, students walking by were excited to see Albone’s SPANA shirt, but today, the animal welfare educators had an important task with teachers. Over a two-week period from June 9-18, Albone, Itle-Clark and Aklilu led first-level professional development workshops toward an International Humane Education Certificate in the three towns of focus.

Some sessions — including their opening workshop based on the “five freedoms for animals” — the compact of rights for domestic animals, including freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress — were meant to improve the teachers’ understanding of animal’s needs and basic welfare principles. They learned its application not only to working equids but to street dogs and exotic wildlife in Ethiopian zoos and in the wild. To illustrate the power of humane-themed literature in helping students to understand the perspective of animals, in particular elephants victimized by poaching throughout the continent, Itle-Clark demonstrated a lesson using the children’s book, "Little Elephant Thunderfoot," which chronicles an elephant family’s mourning following the killing of its matriarch.

Another main goal of the workshops was to build an understanding of modern teaching methods for curricula and club activities with a group used to a very traditional and didactic approach. “The role of critical thinking in building empathy and academic success was something of a novel concept,” said Itle-Clark. “But to be effective and have a lasting impact, students must decide on their own, with teacher prompting and guidance, that being respectful and responsible is the right thing. It was heartening to see the teachers begin to understand this during our time with them.”

In addition, Itle-Clark showed teachers how to construct humane lessons that involve the three domains of learning to meet the different learning styles of their students: cognitive (thinking), affective (emotional) and psychomotor (physical) or head, heart and body. Teachers not only understood the concepts, they embraced them. “Ethiopia is an ancient country and its people are justifiably proud of its heritage,” said Albone. “But it is also a country full of young forward-looking people, and it is developing fast. There is a real appetite for modernisation and the introduction of this course is therefore very timely.”

At the end of the two-week period, 75 teachers had earned certificates for completing 15 hours toward the first-level professional development course for their International Humane Education Certificate (ICHE). Albone, Itle-Clark and Aklilu also received high marks from teachers and Bureau of Education officials in attendance, who thanked them for the instruction in good pedagogy that was much-needed in their schools. Second and third-level courses to reinforce the instruction will be held later this year and enable the educators to earn the award of the ICHE. If the first phase is any measure, the training is on track to reach the high bar that Albone has set for it: “It has the potential to improve [not only] the care of millions of animals, [but] the lives of the people who depend on them.”