Jointly agreed quality criteria for education and training (E&T) and competence assessment are a prerequisite for reliable competence of those trusted with animals and for the free movement of researchers. The Directive requires staff to be educated and trained and that no work on animals is carried out without supervision until competence is demonstrated. Individuals are required to maintain competence through a process of continuing professional development.
To support and advance these aims, Member States together with key stakeholders developed an EU Education and Training Framework.
Furthermore, the Directive sets the full replacement of all animal use as the ultimate goal. Educational material and tools with a specific focus on the Three Rs and non-animal alternatives are therefore essential to progress towards this goal – not only for today’s researchers but for the future generations.
The EU Education and Training Framework recommended the creation of an Education and Training Platform for Laboratory Animal Science (ETPLAS). ETPLAS was established in 2014 to co-ordinate and develop further a solid and reliable E&T quality framework for the benefit of all involved.
ETPLAS brings together representatives of Member State authorities, training providers and training course accreditors to agree jointly on commonly acceptable quality standards to advance these goals.
ETPLAS is the central platform that provides an expanding number of tools for all involved, whether you are working with research animals, a training course provider (in-house or external), a supervisor or a competence assessor, or an employer or an authority tasked with confirming validity of competence claims.
Thanks to a funding provided by the European Parliament, European Commission has developed a set of free, open access tools for E&T – these are now available on the ETPLAS platform. These include, as an example, a series of eLearning modules based on the learning outcomes endorsed by Member States with the EU Framework document.
The eModules were developed with a view to using them in a blended-learning approach that combines e-learning with face-to-face teaching. These can be integrated in existing courses or followed on need-basis. It is expected, however, that these additional tools would be complemented with further development of the material, either face-to-face or otherwise.
Training does not provide competence: training, provided in whichever form, always requires an appropriate, controlled, assessment to provide confidence that the trainee has achieved a suitable level of understanding to meet the learning criteria. A period of supervision will generally be necessary to re-enforce understanding and to ensure the tasks/duties/procedures are conducted to an appropriate standard, with interventions as necessary by the supervisor(s) to ensure this is attained. Only after individuals have been assessed as competent, should they work without supervision.
ETPLAS also provides tools to facilitate competence assessment, including open access Direct Observation of Procedural Skills (DOPS) to harmonise and improve the assessment process for practical tasks and thus to raise standards for the care and humane use of animals – a great resource for persons responsible for the competence of staff in establishments.
Future tools will cover more resources for training providers and course assessors. We will also continue developing further eModules.
Finally, material will also be made available for the integration of education of the Three Rs in different levels of education from primary to secondary schools, to university and early career scientists.