Teaching compassion toward animals using robots

The Scottish SPCA is using robots to teach kids how to best care for and show kindness to animals.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

What does a robotics company have to do with animal welfare? Plenty, according to the Scottish SPCA, an animal welfare organization that, as part of its mandate, runs a program called Prevention Through Education in primary schools in Scotland.

"We are delighted to announce a new partnership with Robo Wunderkind, an Austrian edtech company which provides a fun and natural way to introduce children to robotics and coding," according to a post by the organization. 

The partnership with Robo Wunderkind, which makes block-based STEM robotics kits that teach the fundamentals of coding by encouraging children to build and program their robots, is aimed at encouraging compassionate and empathetic behavior towards animals from a young age to build positive human-animal relationships. In the workshops, kids build responsive robotic creatures and reflect on how they move, feel, and react. SPCA educators show students video footage of real animals and talk about why and how these animals are special, drawing comparisons between the sensor packages in the robots and the nature-made sensors and coded behaviors of real animals. 

The idea is to teach kids to keep the sensitivity and behaviors of animals top of mind when interacting with them in real life.

The Scottish SPCA reaches over 250,000 children annually through its educational outreach, so it's a big testbed for the use of STEM coding and robotics by an organization that is not primarily technology-focused. It's also a big win for Robo Wunderkind, which is competing in a crowded STEM tech environment and has been smart to forge alliances that bring relevance to its products beyond the narrow mandates of technology education.

"The Robo Wunderkind team have always been very interested in expanding the ways of using our robots beyond traditional "teaching coding" field," Anna Iarotska, Robo Wunderkind CEO and co-founder says. "Forming part of the Prevention through Education program is exactly what we have been looking for."

Gilly Mendes Ferreira, Head of Education and Policy at the Scottish SPCA adds, "This unique new addition to the program will be a great tool that will capture children's imagination, encourage them to have fun and be creative, and emphasizes how amazing animals really are. It also links with the STEM curriculum, which puts a special focus on problem-based learning so that the students can instantly apply the knowledge they're gaining."

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