Education is been considered as an effective tool of change. It is alleged that with qualitative education one can change his or her realities of life. Social work claims that it helps people to change their situations from bitter to better and work for inclusive policy, social justice and social development. After seven decades of its journey, social work still lag behind to lead people in difficult circumstances. In these decades the issues raised by developmental decisions of Indian government have put major changes needed in social work education and practice. There are theories, approaches in social work we are imparting but what is needed today is a competence. Competence is something which will make social work students to lead people’s issues. It seems that competence based education and fieldwork is dire need to resolve the crisis in social work. This reflective article is an attempt to line up the current scenario, dilemmas, new demands posed by new era of social work.
Key words: leadership, competence, crisis, operationalizing, social work.
World has experiencing a pace of change, which it has never seen before. We are changing by every movement, things are changing every second and nothing is going to be constant for long. The due credit of this is largely goes to the globalization policy that new world order imposed on every one of us. There is no area of human life left unreached in this process be it social or private. We cannot control, we cannot hide, and even we cannot claim that what I am doing is unique, noble. Nothing is amusing people, nothing is new, everything is available, and reachable which poses many human service challenges for those who claim that they are valuable, knowledgeable in serving people.
What we call social work in its definition i.e. helping people to help themselves is seem quiet far from the perceived status of social work education in higher education scenario of India. We have serious issues of governance in social work education where we need a jargon free critical analysis and commitment to raise professional standards of social work (Jagdale, 2013).
The present article is perceived itself as a step towards the new discourse needed in the field of social work after a decade of globalization policy. In other words the article has an intension to spotlight the crisis in social work and expecting new leadership that strives for the competence which will be instrumental for developing professional social work in India.
If you ask a question to anyone or self i.e. what is competence all about? What response do we get? Many will tell you that ‘it is an ability to perform well’, ‘it is a capacity to work well’, ‘it is a capability to perform better’, ‘fineness in work’ and ‘expertise work’ etc.
The word ‘competence’ and ‘competent’ derive from the Latin word ‘competens’ meaning ‘be fit, proper or qualified’ (Oxford Library of Words and Phrases, Vol.III, Word Origins). It means competence is invariably related to the qualification and the work expected to be performed by one who has that desired qualification. This description of competence will help readers to understand the considerable confusion prevailing among the students and teachers of social work. The whole dilemma that has been an issue of continuous debate in social work education in India since its beginning (Desai, 1981; Gore, 1981; Heraud, 1981; Mathew, 1981; Pathak, 1989; Siddiqui, 1989) has two sides i.e. qualification of a social worker and the competence.
There is no second thought about the context we presume when we think about competence i.e. work and work performance. Therefore we can conceptualize ‘competence’ as a ‘demonstration of knowledge, values and skills of one’s profession’ (NIPQETP, 1992). We do have knowledge base, values, and skills which we try to inculcate in students of social work. In other words, social work competence is a demonstration of social work knowledge, values, and skills. And exactly we have a problem here with this demonstration, we can call it as ‘dilemma’, ‘considerable confusion’, ‘crisis’ or ‘problem spectrum in social work’ (Jagdale et al., 2012).
Competence in Knowledge, Values and Skills
To develop a new leadership in social work education in India, we have to think in different way. We must have to make our minds to throw our traditional, conventional lenses to see social work. We must adopt an objective and critical views for our profession and how one can do this? One can start with the task of operationalsing competence and developing measurable indicators of it. We must go for specifications and leave jargons because they have harmed our professional social work from all the possible ways.
The pillars of social work competence as expressed by O’Hagan (2005) are ‘Knowledge, Values and Skills’, those make us different and will be instrumental to give us back our professional identity. The present article is an attempt to assert the competence leadership needed in social work to minimize the crisis in it.
To demonstrate the competence in knowledge, values and skills in social work let’s take an example of person with mental illness wandering on streets.
The knowledge needed to practice social work, to serve people in need derives from many different sources. Competence practice will depend upon knowledge of law, social policy and programmes, philosophy (ethics), sociology, psychology, social administration, organizational policies, procedures and guidelines, theories, methods of social work interventions etc (O’Hagan, 2005).
If we consider the aforesaid example, to demonstrate knowledge we must ensure that our students must have knowledge about:
• Mental health and its causes
• Social implications of mental illness
• Mental health Act
• Mental health care bill
• Procedure/statues to be followed
• Emergency numbers
• Legalities involved
• People, organizations who will help, guide
• Knowledge of self, theory and methods of helping
Values are invariably related to the ethical base we have. They are formulated and evolve through social and political thought, ideologies, and dialectic processes (Rosen, 1994). To go with the example, in a demonstration of values our students must;
• Identify and question their own values and prejudices (they should discover what they think about mentally ill people, their attitude towards them, perceived place of such people in society etc)
• Acknowledge and respect (particular needs of individual without judgement)
• Promote his right to choose, his privacy, confidentiality while dealing with him and his situation.
• Help him without stigmatizing either for his illness or situation and challenging discrimination against him.
The word ‘skill’ is often used wrongly to denote ‘competence’ and ‘technique’. Skill can be considered as ‘performance proficiency’ that includes ability, cleverness and understanding etc. There is significant work has already been done in social work for what skills are needed to perform social work. Many scholars (O’Hagan, 2005; McLaughlin, 2005; Heery, 1995; Glendinning, 1983, 1986) have shown that skills are used by social workers in different circumstances are similar in nature.
To demonstrate skills component of competence, we must ensure that our students must be;
• Attending and listening to a person (to give ‘being heard’ feeling)
• Questioning and interpretation (appropriate questions and interpretation of words, voice, tone, gap, emotion and attitude)
• Pacing with him and sensitivity (uttering words and or sounds of encouragement at the appropriate time, nodding, eye contact etc.)
• Reflecting, clarifying, paraphrasing and summarizing what he is telling (to build valid data)
• Sure of discipline and control (enabling the exercise of the above skills, continuous awareness of, and being able to respond within, the bounds of legal obligation and departmental procedures)
• Precise in report writing (clear, up-to-date for future consultations, case conferences, submission to courts etc.)
We must ask what, why, and how kind of questions for everything we do in social work field this will surely help us to internalize the importance of conceptualizing and operationalizing competence.
Crisis in Social Work: Need for Leaders of Competence
In India, where the opportunities of getting higher education becoming expensive day by day, we are running with ample of social work institutes which offering higher education. I am not so sure but the number has increased to 400 social work institutes, colleges and or departments in our country.
Growing is always welcomed and honoured by youth because it provides employment opportunities to them. It becomes a source of energy which makes people lead their life. But it is also needed to think about the competence of social workers to address people’s issues and serving them particularly after globalization where the private and foreign universities are strengthening their roots in Indian mass. We owe the responsibility to shape the new era of professional social work in India. The Author perceives the crisis in social work is related to the competence of social workers to establish social work as profession and honoured professional identity with legal sanctions.
No doubt that social work fraternity has been striving to improve its content, methodology, assessment etc. and author fairly acknowledge the work done by Indian scholars to quote some of them viz.; Desai (1981), Gore (1981), Mathew (1981), Singh (1985), Pathak (1989), Siddiqui (1989), Jaswal (1994), Subhedar (2001), Lawani (2002), Rao (2008) and Siddhegowda (2011). The contribution of these people will certainly encourage the young mind coming in social work stream. The Author strongly recommend rather request young faculties of social work that they must read what has been written by Indian scholars first before developing an insights about Indian social work.
What the new mind in social work expected to do is ‘operationalizing each component of social work’, ‘developing specific tasks for practising that component’; and ‘develop visible, measurable indicators for the same’, ‘practice it and systematically record it’. It is quiet certain that it is not an easy task but there is no other way to demand fair, impartial, transparent and even democratic benefits for those who are some or other wary attached to social work in India be it NGOs, Academicians, Researchers, Consultants or social work students.
In other words, if we could answer couple of questions i.e. Do we serve people? Are we human service professionals? If yes, then only competency comes in a picture. Then only we can have research on service delivery, users satisfaction, burden on human service professionals, variations in practices of social work, proficiency in practice, professional ethics which is popularly known as ‘evidence based practice’ of social work. And if our answer is no then it is an issue of great debate, confrontation, introspection and collective ownership of current scenario of social work education in the country.
The Author is of the opinion that social work academicians, perceived practitioners, critics are equally responsible for the present reality of social work in India as a whole. We could successfully manage, detained the status quo of social work education as it is till now. But the era of globalization demand more transparent, more measurable evidences/ records of social work practices and research and importantly pacing other human service professions. This is only possible when we will respect the allegations posed by people outside social work stream. We should start to demonstrate social work in the context of ‘knowledge, values and skills’ of social work. We need manuals for working in different situations, matrixes and worksheets for every activity we presume as social work activity. Otherwise we are welcoming a new slavery in the field of social work where our people work for our people for the benefit of our people but with foreign mind. Therefore a new dawn, new leaders are needed in social work that strive for, experiments with competence.
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Dr. Sandeep Jagdale
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Walchand College of Arts & Science, Solapur– 413006 (MS). Email: email@example.com
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