Special Articles / R.R. Singh / Social Work Profession in India: An Uncertain Future
Changing Perspectives in Professional Social Work
Since the first decade of the twentieth century when training for social workers and subsequently formal education in a few Universities in the United States started, perspectives on social work have changed. The following two definitions of social work and the other on social work practice bring out clearly this shift:
The Social Work Curriculum Policy Statement by the Council on Social Work Education, USA in 1962 for the M.A Programme had this to say:
“Social work profession is concerned with the restoration, maintenance and enhancement of social functioning. It contributes, with other professions and disciplines, to the prevention, treatment and control of problems in social functioning of individuals, groups and communities. Social work operates primarily within the social welfare field, but it has its own identity deriving from knowledge, values and techniques applied in professional practice.”
The International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Federation of Social Workers’ Joint Congress, 2000 gave the following definition which has been critiqued in the journal International Social Work a couple of years ago:
“The social work profession promotes social change, problem-solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the point where people interact with their environment. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.”
These two definitions, among others, have provided the context and direction for the growth of institutions of social work in different countries, and the roles that social work educators and practitioners are expected to play within and even beyond the welfare system. It may be noted that within the institutions of social work, there are educators both with social work qualifications and without it, and both may legitimately call themselves social work educators. In this paper, however, the focus will be on the professionally qualified social work educators.
As regards social work practice, the National Association of Professional Social Workers, USA, had prepared a working definition in 1956 which is given below:
“Social work practice, like the practice of all professions, is recognized by a constellation of values, purpose, sanction, knowledge and method. It is the particular context and configuration of this constellation which makes it social work practice.”
There is however a point of view, and rightly so, that the definition of social work should be reviewed every ten years which may be operationalized in the national and global context. It is well-known that professional social work owes its origin to charity organization and social settlement movement which are, in fact, two approaches to deal with social problems. It is however left for the human service professionals, social scientists and social activists concerned to examine the above definitions, and their implications in terms of goals, methods, social priorities, available resources, level of knowledge, and capability for intervention, because apart from the dictionary meaning of the word “social”, its scope and ramifications are wide, and it has been changing over the years.
‘Social’ in Social Work
Rojek, et al (1988) conceptualize ‘social’ “as the means which allow social life to escape material pressures and politico-moral uncertainties, the entire range of methods which make the members of society relatively safe. The ‘social’ therefore includes the complete range of allowances and benefits to provide compensation for unemployment, illness, old age, and the practices of assistance associated with social work and other helping professions”. Howe (1994) holds the view that ‘social’ “is that which emerges between private and public, a field defined by welfare and legal judgments where interpersonal concerns are played out before a political audience. It is that area where the State penetrates between the world of private relations in so far as what takes place in these relationships concerns the rest of society.”
The editorial in the Social Development Issues, under the term ‘social’ focuses on “relationships and connections how individuals relate to one another, how they are connected to the environment and the economy, how interventions engage and develop individuals, how organizations relate to one another.” With the publication of the Human Development Reports annually by the United Nations Development Programme, the scope of ‘social’ is widening and new dimensions are being added to it. These provide a yardstick which institutions of professional social work anywhere may choose to assess their existing programmes and those that are proposed to ensure accountability in terms of their degrees/diplomas, training programmes, nature of practicum, research and collaborations rather than suggesting that all the activities that they perform constitute professional social work.
Social Science and Social Work
In his inaugural address to the first batch of students of Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work in 1936, the first Director Clifford Manshardt said that “social science seeks to understand social phenomenon and the law of human association and social work seeks to apply them.” When the first Graduate School of Social Work was rechristened as Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1944 and became a Deemed University in 1964, its expansion led to the introductions of more degree/diploma programmes and the establishment of research units. The vision was that the findings of researches conducted by the Units will be utilized by the teaching departments. This was shared by M.S. Gore with this author in an interview in 2001. Somehow this could not be institutionalized. After the restructuration of the Institute’s programmes in 2006 and the establishment of several Schools with Centres and Independent Centres, teaching and research functions are being performed by all. Since all the social work and social science programmes have provided for practicum, field attachment or internship, it would be of interest to know as to how research findings are being utilized within a school, between schools and the centres for social intervention, and how teaching and research programmes are being enriched by field work. One of the contributions of social work to social science disciplines at the Institute is the introduction of field practice in all its programmes which is unlike other universities. Since some teachers in the faculty of social work have moved to other centres and there are three departments (centres) included in the Special Assistance Programme of the University Grants Commission under the Department of Research Support with specific thrust areas, such an exercise becomes all the more necessary.
There are instances in India of social scientists supporting social work and the succession of new leadership controlling social work and even remaining indifferent to it. When the University of Chicago was established in 1892, the sociologists of the Chicago School of Sociology were both social activists and social scientists. The first President of the University had stressed upon public service to generate good will and secure funding. The Board of Studies of Sociology in the University of Delhi used to consider matters relating to social work for several years, but it facilitated the formation of a separate Board of Studies for social work. In most other places, in the name of interdisciplinary teaching and research, social work is being controlled by the founding departments and this process has accelerated with the introduction of self-financing courses. In one College, the head of the Department of Sociology was planning to start social work because students were not seeking admission to MA programme in sociology. This is a clear case of survival rather than commitment to a social cause. The University of Kashmir is another instance where social work is located in the Department of Sociology and as per rules, no student can take admission to MA social work who has not offered sociology at the undergraduate level! The contribution of social science faculty within the social work institutions has not been assessed in terms of their participation in field work practicum, piloting of field action projects, engagement with action research and students’ field work seminars, joint supervision and group conferences. Their contribution to the teaching of social and behavioural science courses and research guidance however deserves appreciation. Faculty with social work qualification along with another degree has proved more valuable to advance the cause of education for professional social work by sharing the workload equitably.
Institutions for Social Work Education
With the establishment of the first School of Social Work in 1936, the Nagpada neighborhood, a slum of Bombay, became the experimental site for “pioneering on social frontiers in India,” as the first Director of the Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work Clifford Manshardt put it. There were only three institutions in 1947 offering MA programmes in social work. After the passage of the Factories Act in 1948, their number started increasing with specialization in Labour Welfare and Industrial Relations. Some institutions were exclusively teaching labour welfare. When the Association of Schools of Social Work in India came into existence in 1960-61, it gave membership only to those which offered 2-year MA programme as well as those which had both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Initially their number was about 15. The Second Review Committee appointed by the University Grants Commission put this number to 32. The number of institutions according to the Curriculum Development Centre’s Report to the UGC was 45 (TISS: 1990). The list of institutions maintained by the National Association of Professional Social Workers in India (2011-12) contains the names and addresses of 184 institutions. Most of them are concentrated in Maharashtra (55), Karnataka (24), Kerala (28), and Andhra Pradesh (20). These institutions are located in the universities as independent or joint departments (generally under the Departments of Sociology as regular or self-financing programme); as independent affiliated institutions of the universities, and as centres/departments of recognized Colleges like Institute of Management Studies, College of Science and Social Science, Institute of Management and Social Science, Institute of Science and Technology, and even as a centre of a university. There are full time regular programmes and also those run in the morning and evening in the same institution along with other diploma courses. Revenue generated by such programmes is used for infrastructure development. In one university all the three programmes were running concurrently at one time. When these became unmanageable and caused indiscipline, an external member was approached for help in abolishing both the morning and evening courses. The Academic Council had decided in favour, but the pressure from the Students’ Union led to the continuation of the evening programme.
During the inaugural session of the First Indian Social Work Congress held on February 22-25, 2013 at Delhi under the joint auspices of the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi and the National Association of Professional Social Workers in India, the estimated number of social work institutions was reported as 400. It can be safely surmised that most of them would be self-financing programmes with high tuition fee and capitation fee. The proliferation of such institutions is indeed a threat to the quality of professional education and practice. These are self-serving institutions which are not preparing competent professionals to serve society. Author has come across a case which came up before the All India Council of Technical Education to grant recognition to an institution of social work which was already running an M.A. programme. This was under pressure from parents and guardians. The three experts, including one from the UGC, after the examination of submitted documents unanimously recommended that the applicant institution should not be recognized as it did not meet the minimum requirement. One is left to wonder as to what happened to the career of enrolled students and the fee that was collected from them! After this case and also because of diversity in parentage, it needs to be found out as to how many Departments of Social Work under the Institutes of Science, etc are offering degrees or post-graduate diplomas in social work? And whether they have also sought and secured affiliation from AICTE or a University specifically for social work programme or whatever may be taught under this name. There is another Department in a Deemed University which, on the strength of only five members in the faculty had proposed 4 diploma courses and 18 electives! Upon the suggestion of an external member of the Academic Council, all the diploma programmes were reluctantly put on hold, and in the Board of Studies, the number of electives was also drastically reduced. Self-financing programmes in social work have proliferated in the Central, State, Deemed and Private Universities with several nodal centres and more than one M.A. programme and quite a few diploma courses. Since there is no National or State Council to regulate and the National Level Professional Associations are only registering and not regulatory bodies, the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India may appoint a study team to look into this aspect in order to regulate social work programmes.
A new trend of international collaboration in a few schools is both a boon and a bane. In the name of international partnership, these institutions are charging very high fee and running courses on behalf of the foreign universities for one year and then transferring students to the partner university abroad for the second year. The degree is awarded by the foreign University. In this way, they are performing a contractual function. There are thus social work institutions offering regular MA programmes, concurrently two or more MA programmes, collaborative programmes with foreign Universities, several diploma courses and training programmes, and even distance education programme regardless of faculty strength, quality, personpower requirements and meeting minimum standards as per the recommendations of the UGC’s Second Review Committee (1980) and UGC Model Curriculum in Social Work. In fact, the model curriculum is being interpreted out of context to suit one’s convenience than to strengthen quality of professional education. In one case, the matter of curriculum was referred to seek the opinion of three experts. The observation received from one expert was professional; the other tried to balance it rather politically and the third chose not to respond inspite of a reminder. With the mushrooming of Diploma, Certificate and Degree Courses, within the institutions of social work, utilization of the same infrastructure or its annexe, not having even a single regular qualified faculty in social work on one hand and full complement of regular faculty on the other, continuing faculty vacancies, substitution by ad-hoc faculty, absence of own field action projects or variety of them, nominal field visit or exposures with or without even token supervision or rigorous supervised field work, the range of facilities between social work institutions is quite varied indeed. A sizeable number of institutions may be mistaken for Centres of Social Studies and/or Centres of Training and Entrepreneurship, or Polytechnics with poor quality programmes which are mechanically organised. As per UGC requirement, a faculty has to spend a minimum of 40 hours per week. It is doubtful whether this requirement is being met in terms of their presence, engagement in scheduled interaction sessions, individual/group meetings, and number of working days when a professional programme like social work requires more investment of time. All these affect the institutional culture and learning environment.
With regard to other programmes, it may be added that during the late sixties, a few schools of social work were given the responsibility of training programme officers under the National Service Scheme. This offered a good opportunity to these institutions to interact with the wider world. Publications on youth work, camping and even journals were brought out. Due to the Central Government’s ambivalence and establishment of Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, there is either routinization of the training programmes, their virtual closure or litigation to seek job security. Apart from conducting training, some of the functionaries under the Training, Orientation and Research Centres (TOCS/TORCS) were directing University NSS programmes as Programme Coordinators. Currently, sixteen out of 39 institutions of social work in different universities are running training programmes under the Global Fund Project Round-7: Counselling Component (GFATMR-7) in HIV-AIDS. This is a good opportunity for recipient institutions to demonstrate their expertise in counselling and its impact on the concerned population. With the help of this project, a number of good books have been added to the recipients’ libraries. Twenty three other institutions are Departments of Psychology. It will therefore be worthwhile to compare the work done by the two disciplines to improve the component of counselling in social work. Out of sixteen social work institutions, three are covered under the SAP which is supported by the UGC.
Professionalization of Social Work
The founder Director of the first graduate school of social work had experience of community work in the USA, but other faculty members were social scientists. Professionalization of social work began in early 1950s (Pathak: 1974). The Indian Conference of Social Work had come into existence then and it had helped subsequently in the establishment of two schools of social work. Further, three members of the faculty of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences were deputed for higher studies in the US in social work and after return they contributed to this process. The Technical Co-operation Mission of USA was also working in India and experts in social work from the USA were sent to work with their counterparts in selected schools of social work. The birth of the Association of Schools of Social Work in India in 1960 was the outcome of the annual seminars organised under the auspices of the TCM. Subsequently the Indian Association of Trained Social Workers came into existence in 1964. Much later, the Indian Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (which subsequently became Indian Association of Professional Social Workers) was formed. Publications were brought out by all of them which were used by social work educators and practitioners. In due course of time, two of them faced problems of one kind or the other and they are either defunct or have lost their visibility. Another organization under the name of National Association of Professional Social Workers came into existence in the first decade of 21st century which is active and is conducting regular annual seminars. Its criteria of affiliating schools of social work however is not known. The NAPSWI issues certificates to student members for higher studies, and jobs in India and abroad. At the state levels, there are a couple of associations and professional groups especially in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu which are active. The Maharashtra Association of Social Work Educators, in collaboration with some schools of social work and the State Department of Social Welfare, is working to establish a State Council of Schools of Social Work which, among its other functions, will regulate standards of education and practice in the State.
The question of forming a National Council of Social Work had engaged the attention of the Indian Conference of Social Work (later Indian Council of Social Welfare), the erstwhile Ministry of Social Welfare/Welfare (now Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment), Government of India and the two UGC Review Committees on Social Work Education. At the initiative of an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Welfare in the 1990s, a draft bill was prepared to form the National Council on Social Work Education and it was referred to the Ministry of Education for further action. The latter referred it to the University Grants Commission for opinion. A three-member Committee of the UGC took the position that under the UGC Act 1956, one of its functions was to regulate standards and therefore there was no need to establish any National Council. This matter was again revived in late 1990s. After discussion with the Subject Panel on Social Work Education and updating the preamble, the UGC reversed its earlier decision and recommended that a National Council should be formed. This matter is lying with the Department of Higher Education, Government of India which requires follow up even though the functioning of the National Councils of Medical and Technical Education, of late, has left much to the desired and the environment at the national level is not too conducive to the formation of a new council. In fact, re-organization of all the national bodies, including the UGC, is on the agenda of the government.
In the USA, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is an autonomous body which regulates standards of social work education and also undertakes assessment and accreditation. Since the formation of a National Council in India may take some time, the National and State Associations, along with the National Network of the Schools of Social Work for Quality Enhancement of Social Work Education may join hands to regulate standards with the assistance from the University Grants Commission, Planning Commission and the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment, Human Resource Development, Women and Child Development, Government of India as also their counterparts in the States to prevent mushrooming of social work institutions. The draft on the National Council on Social Work Education had defined professional social work education and field work practicum so that it can stand the scrutiny of the Higher Courts. It had laid emphasis on the systematic application of acknowledged methods of social work to deal with social problems in order to achieve desired goals. The field practicum was defined as supervised field assignment by a professionally qualified faculty and /or practitioner. These may be amended to some extent but from the legal point of view, both the definitions either by the CSWE, USA or by the IASSW-IFSW have too wide a sweep.
Quality and Standards in Social Work Education
After the first school, other schools that followed adapted its curriculum to suit their needs. With the mushrooming of social work institutions, this situation now has changed. Even the recommendations of the UGC Second Review Committee on Social Work Education (1980) and of the Model Curriculum in Social Work (UGC: 2000) are being ignored. Scrutiny of available courses from selected schools showed that a course on Human Growth and Behaviour was not included in the curriculum but Block Placement was shown as a course in the fourth semester. In the distance mode, face to face programme, (now abolished by the Indira Gandhi National Open University), there was no course on Social Work Research. A regular programme (face to face) ought to follow the pattern of UGC approved programme rather than showing variations in credits and credit hours because Open University degrees have been recognized by the UGC. This aspect was ignored even by the experts from different universities and colleges who were invited to draft the curriculum for the Master’s Degree Programme. This has led to wide variation in courses from 2007-2013 which ranges from 14 courses (including field work) to 22-28 and even 31 courses. Regular programmes have five courses and field work per semester but face to face programmes which were run by social work institutions for IGNOU in addition to their programmes had 2 or 3 courses per semester, including two courses for specialization. This was a case of conflict of interest in a professional programme which ought to have been taken seriously. This must have adversely affected the positive identification of regular students with the profession who may have compared the two programmes. As far as printed learning materials were concerned, problems in alignment of chapters according to course and unit headings and even omissions of certain topics were noted in the workshop held on February 16-17, 2010. This workshop was organized by the School of Social Work and EDNERU (Educational Development of North-East Unit) for starting a centre of social work in Nagaland. The then Vice-Chancellor had permitted the use of other materials and publications in teaching a few courses without IGNOU materials because preparation of such materials would have taken much time.
Such instances point to the curriculum of convenience which ignore the principles of sequence, continuity and integration within an approved minimum framework. Ranade (1974) has observed that “courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels resemble, including their reading list.” This situation has not changed since then. Armaity Desai (1974) is of the view that several courses in the MA programme should be covered in an undergraduate programme and has also drawn attention to their stereotyped nature. In other words, more undergraduate programmes are needed in order to strengthen postgraduate programme. She favours distance education by social work institutions only (2000) and inclusion of courses on International Social Work and Comparative Social Policy. In the University of Delhi, two undergraduate programmes were started, after the UGC Second Review Committee Report (1980). But the Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia has started phasing out its foundational BSW programme. Pathak (2000) has observed that there is “no evaluative research on the impact of social work education on qualifying social work practitioners and recipients of their professional service, and student’s opinions on teaching, field work and relevance of some courses taught as compulsory.” He adds that “research degree of the faculty is in sociology and psychology,” and “there is absence of academic work ethic.” Author’s meeting with a student of social work in a Central University brought out that 21 teachers were teaching the MA course run by the Department Sociology and Social Work on a clock hour basis. There is no professionally qualified regular staff and a professor of sociology acts as Coordinator. It is obvious that there is fragmentation of teaching and integration by students is hardly possible. In another Central University, there were courses on Integrated Social Work (compulsory), International Social Work (optional) and Field work for first year and second year (supportive), but they were dropped as concerned teachers retired! Of late, there is “emphasis now on internationalizing social work due to three global problems of poverty, conflict and ecological degradation and need for diversity of case studies and learning materials” (Cox:2000). The third Central University appointed a sociologist as Professor and Head of Social Work Department because he had sufficient field experience! The selection committee consisted of experts in social work.
Some universities have constituted Boards of Studies only with internal faculty whereas others invite external expert(s). Similarly, examination (evaluation) is entirely conducted by the internal faculty in some institutions and in others fifty percent of theory courses are sent to external examiners for setting question papers and evaluating answer books. Field practicum is generally evaluated internally but viva voce is conducted by external examiners. Rural camp is a compulsory requirement but in one central university it has been abolished and substituted with rural project. It is quite clear that the experience of a camp with group work and group dynamics involved in it cannot be gained through individual or group rural project. The evaluation of field work in the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi was unique. The pattern was evolved jointly by teachers and students in the early 1970s to stem the discontent among the latter. In this pattern, the evaluation of field work reports was done by external and internal examiners separately and the average of the two was the grade/score of a student. In case of difference beyond 10 marks, another external examiner was appointed and the average of the three was the final score of the concerned student. However, over the years, the number of reports to be examined by the third examiner started increasing which required a review. But after the introduction of the semester system, this pattern has been replaced by viva voce in each semester.
All the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in social work follow a 3-year and 2-year pattern respectively except the Assam University which offers a 5-year integrated programme and the University of Delhi which has started a 4-year undergraduate programme. It will be worthwhile to examine their curricula separately for quality, innovations, arrangement of foundational courses, professional and allied courses, their sequence, linkages with field work as also field work assignments and their gradual complexity. Assam University has dropped block placement and substituted it with summer projects.
Another Department of Social Work, in its formative stage, in a Deemed University, had commissioned a group of experts to prepare a curriculum both for BSW and MSW programmes. Since it could not sustain both, the undergraduate programme was dropped later. In this university, after the death of the founder head, the course on History and Philosophy of Social Work is being taught by a Professor of Philosophy from another university as guest faculty. As far as total credits for courses are concerned, they vary from 64 (IGNOU) to 80 or 86 and even 112 for the PG programme, and marks vary from 2000 to 2900. There is a need to conduct rigorous academic audit of such courses at the UG and PG levels in terms of vision and mission of the institution, objectives of courses, their unitization, contents of courses with practice component, sequence and interlinkage, sessions to be scheduled and held according to a teaching plan, readings, semester-wise field practicum and its alignment with theory, linkage between assignments in field practicum between semesters and its complexity, pedagogy, supervision, innovation, space for self-learning, panel teaching, etc. This will not be possible in most institutions but a beginning can be made with those which fall under the UGC’s Special Assistance Programme and a few others. In this context, all the degree and diploma programmes being run by social work institutions on Human Resource Management, Industrial Relations and Personnel Management etc. must be reviewed by an external committee appointed by the UGC whether they are state-funded and/or self-financed and whether they are in consonance with the mandate of the profession. This committee must also look into the number of cases where teachers took study leave with full pay once or twice to do PhD or complete other projects but did not complete them, along with the quality of outcome of concerned institutions under the special assistance schemes over the years to ensure accountability through recovery of funds, if required. For example, institutions in tribal areas are not offering courses on tribal welfare and development as compulsory, elective or specialization, but they are offering management related degree or diploma programmes in spite of institutions of management and well known business schools. Their courses are a poor replica of them. Dalit Social Work is being offered only at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences at the Centre of Social Justice and Governance.
The introduction of the 4-year BA (Hons) programme at the University of Delhi with effect from July 2013 and later one-year research based Master’s programme in social work in 2017-2018 deserves serious consideration by the profession through a series of workshops to plan for a new pattern of social work education. The 4-year undergraduate curriculum in social work (2013-14) of the university contains the following statement which is indeed a matter of concern: “During theory classes, besides lectures, individual or group conferences will be held in the afternoon”. This statement is a major departure from the earlier practice and the recommendations of the UGC’s Second Review Committee, because individual and group conferences were part of supervised field work and not part of theory classes. If this is an oversight, it merits correction because there is flexibility in revising courses every year under the new programme. Whereas the number of objectives and components of field work remain the same in each semester, under theory courses, objectives range from 2-3 and unit-wise reading lists vary from 2-5. Moreover, there are common required readings between courses and units at the UG level and also between the new UG course and the present PG programme. There is no reading list for field work practicum. Further, content of course on international social work and list of readings could have been strengthened by referring to the earlier elective course of 2000 with the same title and reading list by including the latest UN publications. Inclusion of the foundation courses in the new social work curriculum could have given an indication of the workload of students in a professional programme and helped other social work institutions to plan their programmes accordingly.
The National Network of Schools of Social Work for Quality Enhancement of Social Work Education in India is another important initiative which deserves special mention. A national consultation was held in May 2012, where 100 delegates were present. The process for this national network was started in 2005 by the Social Work Education and Practice Cell, Tata Institute of Social Sciences when a National Steering Committee of Social Work Educators was formed to review the status of social work education in the country with UGC support. Before this National Consultation, zonal meetings were held in Chennai, Delhi, Guwahati and Bhuvaneshwar to discuss “the issues and challenges of social work education and to develop strategies for “enhancing and transforming its quality”. One of the objectives of the National Network’s zonal meetings was to suggest strategies for developing minimum standards in social work education as also formulation of the National Council of Social Work Bill. The Report of the National Consultation noted that “it will be difficult to control social work education which has moved from bad to worse with the mushrooming of social work institutions.” The private institutions of social work visualize it as being “commercially saleable”, and is being equated only with employability at the cost of values such as social justice, human rights and empowerment. The Zonal Conveners (North, East, West, North-East Zones) referred to the award of degrees/diplomas, variations in the curriculum, urban focus, low rural exposure, assessment of written scripts by non-social work educators, inadequate number of field work supervisors, low salaries, student–teacher ratios, high density of institutions in a particular region, mushrooming of self-financing programmes, high tuition and capitation fee, award of high grades, sub-standard education, vacant posts, overcrowding of students in good agencies, popularity of distance education, few field action projects, unwillingness of institutions to go for assessment by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, professionally unqualified persons teaching and running social work institutions etc. Four working groups were formed to deliberate on need, objective, structure of network, and its agenda as also exchange of resourses and ideas. A 5-Year framework was suggested for a postgraduate course of 80-90 credits and 225 hours of field work per semester. The report stressed upon ethical foundations of social work and making social work education emancipatory and participatory.
As far as the curriculum development is concerned, change from the annual system to semesterization has not been planned through specially designed workshops as preparatory to the meetings of Boards of Studies. Rather, courses have been split and adjusted between the semesters. Wherever it has been done, it raises the question of professional ethics and academic integrity. Regardless of the annual or semester pattern, the description on field work has remained constant without much change. Manuals for field work with additional information and for research projects which are required by students in any school of social work as a matter of routine have been published with some additions under the UGC’s Special Assistance Programme as if they are new contributions. The new Department of Social Work, Bhagat Phool Singh Women’s University, Haryana perhaps is the only one which is working on field practicum in community engagement in rural areas through village institutions and groups and putting it at the centre of the curriculum by developing semester-wise courses in social work with practice component in as many theory courses as possible. This will also be reflected in the question papers for theory examination. Attempt is under way to look at each course within and between semesters, course objectives and unitization of the course according to objectives, identification of certain components of each course and their linkages with practicum, selection and preparation of reading lists with units, including materials/case studies on practice learning, their progression from one semester to the next by relating earlier course with the new ones and selection of relatively complex field work assignment as the student moves forward. Such an exercise is not only helping in curriculum development but also faculty development. The university has made it a requirement for all disciplines to include a component of community engagement for social development and supported it by allocating fund for this purpose.
The initiative being taken by the National Network of Schools of Social Work at the zonal and national levels through consultations has already been referred to. In one of the meetings, Ramana (2012) drew the attention of participants about sub-standard education being imparted to students by social work institutions, and spoke against the distance mode of education in social work. Others drew attention to the poor organization of counselling programme which anchors field practicum. One of the zonal conveners shared with the author about poor response from schools in furnishing details, which may be due to insecurity or direction from the managements. A survey of 32 schools in Maharashtra by a group of social work educators under the auspices of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and funded by the Department of Social Welfare (2002-2003) brought out that many schools were scoring poor grades. The Department thought that in order to improve performance, these scores may be linked with grant-in-aid. At this stage, the group suspended its work. The Department of Social Welfare then planned to cover the rest of the schools. One does not know whether this survey was completed and how its findings were used. But the schools of social work which were managed by political leaders were unconcerned about it, because they knew that their grant cannot be stopped due to political intervention. The same political approach is adopted to secure provisional affiliation, and renewal of affiliation which is almost treated as “permanent” because state universities too are not free from political pressure.
In the first technical session of the 1st Indian Social Work Congress, 2013 (February 22-25), Siddiqui spoke particularly about the schools of social work in the southern zone .He drew attention to self-financing programmes, “weak field work, sub-standard and poor quality of contact classes, high fees, commercialization, dilution of quality and absence of outcome research.” Thomas informed the Congress about 20 open universities imparting distance learning with 30,000 students. Khinduka mentioned about, “opportunistically run and profit-making programmes” when “research and community service are crucial.” Although he stressed upon minimum standards, he warned against mindless “conformity”. He pleaded for innovation, testing of knowledge, evidence-based social work, interdisciplinary research, creative solutions, commitment to vulnerable and marginalized groups, and for changing policy through inquiry-driven and research-focused social work education based on values and ecological concerns. The above account, culled from different sources from 1970s to 2012, highlights the concerns that the profession of social work in general and social work education in particular have to address with regard to quality and standards.
Institutional culture, environment and work ethic in education are as important as faculty, staff, library and infrastructure. Institutions where faculty is not available or available for a few hours at will, where rights-based approach, social justice and human relationships are taught, one can find instances of poor work ethic, discrimination or reverse discrimination, open dissensions among the faculty and students, litigation and even charge of harassment by women colleagues at work place. Such an environment is not conducive for professional education.
Social Work Practicum, Extension and Research
The information brochures and prospectuses of the schools of social work and especially manuals for field work describe field work as “core” of social work education. But if one goes by the yardstick of investment of faculty time, the quality of orientation programmes, regularity of weekly field visits, scheduled and held individual and group conferences according to the minimum allotted time as per the recommendations of the UGC’s 2nd Review Committee, evidence-based recorded inputs in supervision ,supportive instruction in field work, supervisory comments and relevant reading references in the weekly field work reports of students, participatory evaluation and preparation /publication of teaching materials based on own and students’ field work and action research, one can say that field work is not only marginal in most institutions but is also being marginalized. After the publications of case records for teaching purposes by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi School of Social Work and the Faculty of Social Work, Baroda which were both method and field specific and were based on supervised work, subsequent publications, if any, have not been shared or made available to other institutions of social work. The prospectuses show the changing vision, mission and goals of social work education and profession, and make special reference to the rights-based approach, human rights, social justice, advocacy and sustainable development, but there is no documentation of the process of selecting practice assignments, nature of supervision, gaps in existing knowledge, filling of gaps through desk and action research in the above areas or sub-areas, nor any available teaching learning material. Inclusion of new dimensions or components in the official documents requires re-organization of educational programme and in the context of social work, exploration of practice opportunities. Preparation of the list of available audio-visual materials from the UN system, international and national NGOs, concerned Ministries/Departments/Commissions etc. for use will strengthen teaching, practice and action research. This will bring field work from the margin to the core. Mere performance of rituals does not make field work central in any institution. In fact, profession and practice must go together.
Field work is a requirement in professional social work education and the student’s work is supervised. But in the proposals for grants-in-aid or Self-Study Reports for assessment and accreditation, it is shown as extension. This is not fair. A proper distinction needs to be made between the two. Extension implies that the effectiveness of an approach or service has been confirmed in an experiment or structured practice and this can be extended for the benefit of individuals, groups, families, neighbourhoods, social networks, communities, organizations, institutions and the physical environment. Rural camp can be used for extension work through proper planning and organization. But supervised action learning is not extension.
Reference has been made earlier to the concentration of several social work institutions ranging from 8 in a town to 23 in a district. This may be taken as a problem and also a challenge. Schools of social work can collectively apply their mind to solve this problem for the benefit of all in the local context. Pinky et al (1997) report an instance where field agency is a consortium of five hospital settings and interns from seven schools work. There is integration at the BSW/MSW and PhD levels. With the devolution of powers and functionaries to the Panchayati Raj institutions, and urban local bodies, and even otherwise many welfare benefits and development projects are in operation. There are NGOs, self-help groups, micro-finance institutions and other organizations or federations where students may be placed after preparatory work to solve this problem and give a visible demonstration of problem- solving approach rather than continue with the blame game. District, block and city plans may be consulted for developing field work and encourage meaningful participation of faculty, students, citizens and nodal entities. Under the 4-year undergraduate programme of the University of Delhi, field work will begin with the third semester. Since students will be joining NSS or other activities, field work can be dovetailed with them and started from the first semester itself with imagination, creativity and innovation. In Nagaland, where a new school of social work had started with the support of IGNOU and Nagaland Gandhi Ashram, the Education Committee of the Village Council had agreed to provide funds for the educational support programme and such centres for children. The experiment of communization of Nagaland can be tried out locally even elsewhere through the panchayats, and local bodies. The State Government of Haryana has passed the Right to Service Delivery Act, 2013. This can provide opportunities to gain experience in the rights-based approach. A bench mark therefore may be established to assess the outcome in field work.
On the complaint of a BSW student against her field work supervisor, the Delhi High Court called for papers relating to field work and also enquired about the criteria of evaluation. Although the complainant lost the case, this incident does point to the need for rigour in field work, its organization, supervision and evaluation rather than arbitrarily deciding about the frequency and periodicity of field visits, individual and group conferences, written guidance in weekly reports and proper maintenance of records. Distrust of students has led to violence on two campuses of schools of social work where faculty sustained fatal injuries. Another campus witnessed violence where two members of the faculty were involved. Therefore unless institutions and faculties act as role models to strengthen professional socialization of students and their confluent learning, their identification with the profession will be fractured and incomplete.
As far as research in the schools of social work is concerned, one will find it hard to distinguish between those in social work and social sciences. There are two instances known to the author where PhD theses relating to social casework were supervised by professors in sociology! Disregarding the heavy demands of a professional course, senior faculty prefers to guide 10 PhD scholars like their counterparts in other social science courses as per university rules. This probably gives higher status and power. Action and intervention research is limited and even at the Centres for Advanced Studies under SAP of the UGC, this is yet to be initiated. Only manuals, edited works based on seminars, directories and activity reports are being brought out. Integration of theory, practice and research has left much to be desired.
Schools of Social Work under the Special Assistance Programme (SAP)
Since the early nineties, the UGC has covered institutions of social work under the SAP which includes Department of Research Support, Department of Special Assistance, and Centres for Advanced Studies. Institutions concerned submit proposals and after their scrutiny and the Expert Committee Report, these programmes are sanctioned for five years to begin with. These institutions have to successfully complete three five yearly cycles for upgradation to a higher level programme. Some institutions were sanctioned DSA directly and after two five yearly renewals, if their performance was very good, they were granted Centres of Advanced Studies. Presently there are three social work institutions in this category. One institution which was granted DSA in the 1990s did not do well and therefore an Expert Committee recommended its discontinuation. This matter was taken up at the UGC level and after review, an expert recommended to make it a Department of Research Support. As per UGC rules there are variations in the quantum of five yearly grants for the DRS, DSA and CAS and these are approximately Rs 25 lakhs, Rs 50 lakhs and Rs 80 lakhs and a project staff in some cases. Earlier, there used to be positions for Professors and Readers also. The following data on SAP in Social Work was collected from the SAP section of the UGC in June 2013. There are 8 universities and 13 Departments of Social Work covered under this programme. No Department so far has published a volume on action/intervention research although there are activity reports, manuals and directories as also edited volumes. Without going into details, it will be worthwhile to look at the thrust area (s) proposed by institutions and see how far they are aligned with the definitions of social work, recommendations of the Word Summit on Social Development (and other summits on women, children and sustainable development), social priorities in the National Five Year Plans and Human Development Reports for India, States and Districts. The thrust areas of these institutions are given below along with their Universities:
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