Social work as a practiced-based profession (IFSW/IASSW, 2014) requires a combination of theoretical and practical learning. Both types of learning are important for students to become professional social workers, and they take place inside and outside the university classroom through the field education experience.
It can be said that theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is meaningless. Field work practicum is the heart and soul of social work education and social work profession. The field work is the foundation for the success of any social work intervention like social case work, group work and community organization. What makes this intense learning experience satisfactory to students? Contributing most to satisfaction were students’ perceptions of the quality of field instruction, the desirability of and involvement in the agency, and didactic explanations for the field instructor. The findings highlight the importance of accessible supportive supervision, active learning, and feedback and conceptual input into student learning.
In the current study the researcher made an effort to put light on the factors that causes ineffectiveness of field work practicum and tried to find out the ways and means to improve the quality of field work. The researcher involved social work students, faculties of various colleges and the agency supervisors of various organizations.
Learning in Social Work in Field Settings
Social work education comprises of a theoretical component taught in the classroom and field- based education involving integration of the academic aspect and practice. Fieldwork, which is also known as field instruction, field placement, field education, practicum or internship is therefore an integral component of social work education.
Field learning occupies a central role in the curricula of social work schools around the world.
Indeed, a glance at the history of social work education reveals that, since the foundation of the first schools of social work until today, field placement learning has been at the heart of social work education, while approaches to field learning and the criteria used to evaluate students’ learning and performance vary across schools and countries (Doel & Shardlow, 2005; Bogo, 2010; Doel, Shardlow, & Johnson, 2011; Reamer, 2012). But, why is field learning such a fundamental component of the social work educational process?
Field learning is a type of experiential learning that social work students engage in through their placements in social work agencies. Shardlow & Doel (1996) have described this type of learning as follows:
“The learning that occurs while a student is on placement in a social work agency, it should not be taken to imply that students do not learn about practice in class settings. It refers to the context of learning in the practice agency”.
During the field practicum, social work students are moving from class-based learning to learning by doing, which marks their entrance into the world of the profession and the demands of learning through work. So, field learning is regarded as the missing link between theory and professional practice (Parker, 2007). The whole process resembles a theatrical rehearsal, as students are gradually prepared to play the role of the future social worker. In particular, at the final stage of fieldwork practice, social work students seem to participate in a “prova generale” before entering into the professional arena.
History and Background
One cannot trace the origin of social work but one can trace beginning of field based practice of social work. It was originated from Charity Organization Society by training the friendly visitors to assessing people for providing different services by the charity Organization Society. Later the social work was made formal education by introducing BSW, DSW, MSW etc. They have added the field work practicum in their curriculum. Now, it has become part of the course and is being implemented and brought into action by almost all the schools of social work around the world.
The Objectives of Field Work Practicum
As discussed earlier, the field work in social work education and profession as well plays an important and vital role in making the profession effective.
The prime objectives of field work practicum in social work education are
Objectives of the Study
The primary objective of this study is put light on constraints and difficulties that the students, faculties and the supervisors encounter in the course of concurrent field work.
Secondly to bring in to light the effectiveness of the post-field work activities like Individual conferences, group conferences, report writing, presentations, viva-voce etc.
Specific Objectives of the Study
The objective of current study is to ascertain the understanding of field work practicum in social work among the students, faculties of social work on one side and agency supervisors, professional social workers and voluntary social workers on the other side. Bring out the perceptions and perspective about the concept of field work practicum in social work education among its stakeholders.
Another objective of the current study is to weed out the misconceptions surrounding the concept of field work in social work education.
Some misconceptions are given below
- That field work practicum and social work papers are different
- That all should go to slums or rural areas only for field work
- That in social work field is more than the class room learning
- That field work day is like holiday or jolly day
- That field work involve only report writing
Further to the above general objectives of the study, the below are the few specific objectives.
Place of Study
University of Mysore is one of the oldest and renowned universities in world in terms of quality of education, the culture, effective management and international relations. It attracts students and scholars around the world to take up higher studies like M-Phil and PhD.
The University of Mysore is a public state university in Mysore, Karnataka, India. The university was founded during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore. It opened on 27 July 1916. Its first chancellor was the Maharaja of Mysore; the first Vice-Chancellor was H. V. Nanjundaiah. The university became the first outside of the British Administration in India, the sixth in India as a whole, and the first in Karnataka. It is a state university of the affiliating type, and became autonomous on 3 March 1956, when it gained recognition from the University Grants Commission.
The present study covers all the four districts of Mysore, Mandya, Hassan and Chamarajanagar, all of which are within the jurisdiction of University of Mysore.
There are ten colleges providing courses in Social Work, both at under gradate and post graduate level. Out of ten, three are run by Karnataka State Higher Education Department, four are private autonomous colleges affiliated to University of Mysore and remaining three are the constituent colleges of University of Mysore.
All the colleges follow a uniform curriculum system framed by the University of Mysore and act according to the rules and regulations of the university as far as the syllabus, examinations, and viva are concerned.
Department of Studies in Social work, University of Mysore is the coordinating School.
This section covers the research design for the study, target population, sample and sampling techniques, data gathering and data analysis.
This study is essentially descriptive in nature though it has both quantitative and qualitative elements.
The study covers faculties, fieldwork coordinators, agency supervisors and the students. Faculty is the one who takes care of the theoretical aspects of the subject at college level like a lecturer, professor etc. Field work coordinator is the one along with teaching he/she will take care of the placing the students for all kind of field work like concurrent field work, summer placement, rural camp block placement etc, and students who are on concurrent fieldwork placement from the colleges of social work which are functioning under the norms of University of Mysore.
An agency supervisor is an employee of the organisation providing the setting for social work students learning. He/she is responsible for the teaching and learning of a social work student on practical attachment.
Sample and sampling Procedure
As the study aims at putting light on nook and corners of the field work practicum, the primary stakeholder must be considered for study.
Students, Faculties and Agency supervisors are the primary stakeholders in this regard.
The current study is a cross sectional study for which the researcher have considered samples from each of the stakeholder from various colleges (under University of Mysore) to come to a scientific result based on the qualitative as well as quantitative data collected from the respondents.
A sample of 5 MSW students from each college affiliated to University of Mysore and Constituent colleges and post graduate centers are being selected for the study.
From each college 3 faculties were being selected and 20 agency supervisors from various NGOs, agencies and organization were selected as respondents.
Data gathering techniques
A well drafted questionnaire was prepared separately for students, faculties and trainers covering selected themes on the nature and practice of fieldwork were used to obtain information from the target population comprising of social work students, agency supervisors and fieldwork coordinators.
Data was analysed on the basis of selected themes, including the nature and form of fieldwork, duration of fieldwork, agency and school supervision, and challenges experienced in the management and practice of fieldwork among others.
“Knowing that a faculty member who represents the School will be coming on a specific date to review progress stimulates the field instructor and student to assess their progress. The heightened energy available at such times should be consciously used to facilitate change for educational purposes” (1987:158)
While it is evident from the study that fieldwork in social work education is marginalised, there are indeed very promising prospects of raising its effectiveness and quality of training. Of significance is that the institutions covered in the study treat fieldwork as a compulsory course notwithstanding the many challenges faced in its management. Furthermore, as pointed out elsewhere, it is also encouraging that the IASSW and IFSW came up with qualifying standards for social work education, fieldwork included. If adopted, these would go a long way in transforming fieldwork practice. Specifically, these include, among others, the need to appoint qualified and experienced faculties, the need to provide orientation and training to the same, the need for social work training institutions to develop fieldwork manuals and also to ensure that the duration of fieldwork is sufficient.
Furthermore, while the challenges confronting the fieldwork component in the training of social workers require intervention at the highest level, that is Government and management at training institutions, it is also necessary that those involved in fieldwork execute their roles and responsibilities effectively. Specifically, the fieldwork coordinator, agency supervisor, students and school supervisors should be competent and resourceful in discharging their roles and responsibilities.
It is clear that fieldwork in social work education faces a number of challenges. While the primary responsibility for addressing these challenges lies with the social work department or unit, there are issues that need the intervention of higher level institutions in collaboration with prominent schools of social work in bringing uniformity in field work curriculum. Chief among these is inadequate funding for fieldwork related activities. Second is the lack of a clear learning content for fieldwork. Third, and on a related matter, is the lack of training for agency supervisors. In order to develop fieldwork to its fullest potential and to enhance the quality of learning, it is necessary to adopt the following measures:
Development of fieldwork manuals
It is imperative that schools of social work develop their own fieldwork manuals, covering the teaching and learning content for fieldwork. This is particularly important considering that each institution is unique in terms of the prevailing socio-economic conditions, challenges and experiences, the social work education curriculum in a given country. Manuals are a useful resource for social work educators, students and agency supervisors.
Introduction of a taught course on fieldwork theory and practice
There seems to be a lack of interest on fieldwork issues among social work scholars, which partly explains the paucity of literature on the subject. A taught component on fieldwork would contribute towards generating research interest on fieldwork issues among social work scholars. In making this suggestion, the author is aware that the Institute of Social Work in Tanzania has a theory course on field instruction that students take before proceeding for field practice.
Assistant Manager-Human Resources, BVG India Ltd, Bangalore
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