Special Articles / T.K. Nair / Social Work Profession in India: An Uncertain Future
Social work as a profession arose in the context of capitalism to mitigate the ills caused by it. It had its origin in the nineteenth century with the emergence of a philosophy of “scientific charity” which stated that charity should be “secular, rational and empirical as opposed to sectarian, sentimental and dogmatic” (Huff, 1997)1. Social work profession grew out of the Charity Organization Societies (COS) in England (1869) and the United States of America (1877). The COS in Britain adopted a punitive approach by using the “scientific case work method” to distinguish between the “deserving” poor to determine who would use appropriately the financial help given, and the “undeserving” poor. The practice of case work was considered the “antithesis of mass or socialistic measures” like the provision of free school meals and old age pensions (Ferguson, 2009). The first social workers in England were called hospital almoners. The Royal Free Hospital hired the first almoner in 1895. The first professional social worker to be hired in the United States was in 1905 at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Service to the needy has been an integral part of the Indian social tradition motivated by both religious and altruistic considerations (Ajith, 2011). This tradition dates back to many centuries before Christ. Many social reform movements were witnessed in India during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dayanand Saraswathi, founder of Arya Samaj, vigorously campaigned against untouchability, child marriage, “sati”, dowry practices and women’s low status in society and discrimination. Swami Vivekananda’s movement aimed at bringing about revolutionary social changes in the country and modernizing Hindu religious practices.
Mahatma Gandhi, besides leading our Independence movement, laid the foundation for rural and social development, panchayati raj, sarvodaya , trusteeship, and human rights of the socially ostracized. A master of social action, Gandhiji organized training programmes for constructive workers drawn from all walks of life. Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi insisted that change agents should go to the needy people and communities wherever they are, instead of making the affected people to approach them seeking help. Social work profession in the United States had its roots in the COS movement, but its origin in India was not a sequel to the tested social service and social reforms initiatives in India. Instead it was imported from an alien social environment.
Formal social work education in the United States as well as in the world had its origin in 1898 with the Charity Organization Society’s first summer school in philanthropic work at New York. The summer school continued until 1904 when it expanded the course work as the first full-time course of graduate study at the New York School of Philanthropy. In 1917 the name was changed to the New York School of Social Work. In 1940, the school was affiliated with the Columbia University and began awarding MS (Master of Science) degree. In 1963, the name of the School was changed to University School of Social Work. In fact, education for social work in the US began in the form of apprenticeship training by the COS. The newly recruited employees used to sit at the corner of the desks of their experienced employees, who encouraged the neophytes to acquire the skills. Thus field work training or practicum became an integral part of social work education.
Social Work Education in India
Social Service League, a voluntary welfare organization in Bombay (now Mumbai), used to conduct 15-week training course for voluntary social workers. This was the first training in social work in India. Clifford Manshardt, an American Protestant missionary, working with the urban poor in Nagapada neighbourhood in Bombay, pioneered professional social work education in India. Sir Dorabji Tata Trust supported the idea of Manshardt and in 1936 the Sir Dorabji Graduate School of Social Work came into being, offering a two-year postgraduate Diploma in Social Service Administration (Dip SSA). Thomas (2012) described social work an “exotic plant” brought over from the United States by Manshardt. The school was renamed the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 1944 and the University Grants Commission (UGC) conferred the deemed-to-be university status in 1964.
The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in India started the Delhi School of Social Work in 1946 which was affiliated to the Delhi University for the Master’s degree in social work: MA(SW). After some years it became a department of the Delhi University, but continued to be called the Delhi School of Social Work. MS University of Baroda was the first university in India to give social work a separate status of faculty like the Faculty of Arts and instituted the MSW (Master of Social Work) degree. Kashi Vidyapeeth started a department of social work around this time and strangely awarded the MAS (Master of Applied Sociology) degree. Madras School of Social Work, started in 1952, was the first institution in South India. During the half century after Manshardt’s creation, the schools of social work began to increase in number slowly: 9 in 1957, 34 in 1975 and 45 in 1990. But the last two decades witnessed mindless proliferation of social work education centres in the country. Even ordinary Arts and Science colleges prominently advertise MSW as a special attraction. MSW, BSW and Diploma courses are being run under different auspices: sociology departments in the Universities, management institutes, engineering colleges, and so on. As MSWs have market value, starting such courses is a good source of income for the sponsoring bodies. Distance education in social work has brought havoc to education in social work. IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University), the premier distance education university in India, was the first to initiate distance education in social work. As social work educators were not happy with that decision, IGNOU took care to retain the important elements of regular social work programmes including supervised field instruction in association with the schools or departments of social work in different regions. But the distance education programmes in social work of other universities are substandard. The existing social work education scenario in India is alarming. It is a deluge-like expansion and the approximate number of social work education programmes is anybody’s guess. In 2012, the estimated number was around 400. Most of the regular programmes are self-financed with low investment generating high returns.
Indian social work education , unlike in other countries, has the unique inclusion of what is popularly known as “labour”, that is Labour Welfare, Personnel Management and Industrial Relations (PMIR), which is now known as Human Resource Management or HR. The Factories Act of 1948 made it mandatory for companies employing 500 or more workers to appoint Welfare Officers possessing Diploma in Social Service , and that was an incentive for schools or departments of social work to continue to retain PMIR as an area of specialization in the MSW course, despite opposition to its retention in the changing socio-economic environment from well-intentioned quarters.
In 1965, the TISS split labour from social work “like a surgeon skillfully separating con-joined twins by a surgical operation” (Thomas, 2012). But the TISS could do so smoothly as it had become a deemed-to-be university by that time. The two-stream model of TISS is adopted by some social work educational institutions: MA (SW) and MA (HRM). But many social work educational institutions retain HR either as a specialization of MSW or as one of the two concentrations: HR and integrated social work. One Department of Social Work in a Chennai college offered MA in Social Work only with HR specialization for many years; and the students and teachers always prided themselves to belong to the HR department. The first school of social work in south India, an autonomous college now, is more of an institution of management studies than a school of social work after more than sixty years of its inception. MA degree courses in human resource management, human resources and organization development, and development management along with a diploma in personnel management and industrial relations; an MBA programme in partnership with a US University which has been suspended as the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) refused to recognize it ; another aborted MBA programme , the approval for which was turned down by the AICTE (against the order of which , a writ petition has been pending in the Madras High Court); courses in psychology; and MSW with HRM specialization are the programmes offered by this school. Barring one MSW programme which receives grant-in-aid from the Tamilnadu government, all courses are self-financed. The critics say that the school has UGC-sanctioned autonomy to promote academic anarchy.
It is a strange irony that the school of social work , which pioneered social work education in India, is now one of the ten schools in different functional areas. MA degree programmes in HRM, social entrepreneurship, rural development, development studies and social work “co-exist competing with each other”. No one can find fault with a university for academic expansion, particularly when there is a huge flow of funding support from the governments and other organizations. The HRM degree is more popular than its social work degree for obvious reasons. The primacy of social work during the first three decades of the founding of the social work course has been lost due to changing priorities of the administrative structure. The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, for example, confines itself to management education of world class quality. So also are the other IIMs. Similarly, the TISS ought to have remained a Social Work University with social work and social development courses, research and action. After seventy five years of its functioning , neither TISS as a university nor any of its social science units finds a place among the top two hundred QS World University rankings.
MSWs with PMIR or HR specialization seldom like to be known as social workers as they consider it below their “professional” status. Painfully, many MSWs with PMIR across India were proud to announce that they charge-sheeted many employees, conducted many domestic enquiries and terminated the services of many workers. It is distressing that social work education could not inculcate humane values in these students. In other words, it is the failure of the educational institutions to enable professional socialization of students with the values of social work. Strange as it may seem, it was the emergence of management education that influenced MSWs to be human resource - oriented rather than punitive discipline-oriented in companies as business schools give emphasis to human resource as a key capital component.
Four decades after the inception of social work education, the national ASSWI seminar in 1977 discussed the two contentious issues: Are the objectives of social work co-terminus with those of industry and business ? Should schools of social work continue to offer education in personnel management ? The uncertainty of graduates in the employment market was expressed by many schools or departments of social work in the event of dropping personnel management from social work education. Many were even anxious of the future of social work education itself without personnel management. Hence the suggestion to delink social work from personnel management was not favoured at the ASSWI seminar as many participants felt that the argument lacked sufficient “practical formulations” to support the idea (Nair, 1981a). The same argument is still put forth by social work educational institutions after another four decades after the 1977 review seminar. Those who argue that social work should not be seen as supporting the corporate interests have always been in a minority. A large number of admission seekers to MSW courses are keen to opt for PMIR or HR specialization because of the lucrative nature of jobs in business organizations with opportunities of promotion compared with the generally low paid social work positions. As more and more business schools have come into existence, corporate employers prefer MBAs from well known schools. But the MBAs are high priced compared with the lower salary expectation of MSWs and hence more of them are recruited in companies. This encourages social work institutions to persist with HR specialization. Conviction is giving way to convenience.
Professional Organizations Versus Personal Ambitions
The professional association for social work education was formed a quarter century after the establishment of the first school of social work. The United States Technical Cooperation Mission (TCM) in India, which started functioning from 1956, brought together the teachers of social work through the all-India seminars that were organized in Simla, Mahabaleshwar, Mussorie and Ooty under its auspices. At the time of the Indian Conference of Social Work at Begumpet, Hyderabad, on December 25 and 26, 1959, the group of educators who met there – 14 representatives of schools and university departments – expressed the need for a permanent organization that could weld the schools together. A.R.Wadia, the then director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, agreed to be chairman of an ad-hoc committee that came into existence eleven months later. It appointed a constitution sub-committee. The Association was born on November 5, 1960 at the MS University of Baroda. A.R.Wadia presided over the formation of the Association at the meetings held in November 1960 attended by 28 delegates from ten schools of social work, two labour institutes, TCM experts in India and invitees. On November 6, 1960 the first executive committee of the Association of Schools of Social Work in India (ASSWI) was elected by eleven institutional voting members with A.R.Wadia as the president. Enforcement of minimum standards of social work education was the major concern of the ASSWI. At a seminar at Ooty in May 1961, the executive committee adopted the minimum standards drafted by the Delhi Chapter of the Alumni of Schools of Social Work with minor changes (Nair, 1981 b).
The critics of the style of functioning of ASSWI in the early years called it a Headmasters’ Association as a small group of “headmasters” and their cohorts controlled it. They also styled themselves as social work practitioners. They were the “permanent” participants of international conferences and seminars; and beneficiaries of government nominations and international assignments. During 1977-1982, a committed team was elected to manage ASSWI in which the author had the opportunity to be an office-bearer. For the first time social work teachers from different regions were nominated to international programmes based on merit; many were invited to direct national workshops and seminars, and various faculty development and curriculum re-structuring programmes were organized2. But the past remote control practice could not be erased. A college of social work sought the membership of ASSWI, which was turned down by the previous executive committee purely on “subjective” grounds. A report recommending the eligibility of the college in 1977 prepared by the Executive Secretary of ASSWI after visiting the college and studying all the relevant issues was also not acceptable to the powerful opponents of the college. Finally, the new executive committee accepted the recommendation and admitted the institution to ASSWI leading to serious conflict in the association. When the four-year term of the team came to an end in 1982, it had to face a vitriolic campaign of character assassination led by a group of “senior” social work educators who were once the key decision makers. In the following years, the momentum of 1977-1982 could not be sustained except during 1994-1998 when the executive committee of that period reactivated the ASSWI. But it was a short-lived effort. Subsequently, ASSWI had dystrophy of functioning leading to its demise. National associations of different disciplines like economics, political science, sociology, anthropology and commerce have a long history of uninterrupted functioning. At the same time social work’s record has been dismal.
Recently TISS arranged regional meets of social work educators and institutions under the National Network of Schools of Social Work, sponsored by the Planning Commission of India, starting from September, 2011. The regional meets finally culminated with the formation of a new organization called the Indian Association of Social Work Education (IASWE) on December 3, 2013 at TISS. The IASWE owes its conception to a benevolent sponsoring body, the umbilical cord of which needs to be separated without pain to enable the new association to function with a committed leadership, and a clear vision and a realistic mission. Historically, Indian social work educators have shown a tendency to be conflict-prone. Hence transparency and inclusion should be the hallmark of IASWE to succeed. But it is disappointing that the draft constitution, even after revision is restrictive and discriminatory. For instance, the constitution, as of now prohibits retired teachers from contesting in the elections. Age of retirement varies from 56 to 65. Categorization of teacher-members based on age and statutory retirement is suggestive of “age-ism”.
The national association of social workers was formed in 1961 at Delhi. It was then called the Association of the Alumni of Schools of Social Work, indicating the lack of confidence among social work educators and social workers to identify themselves as professionals. Subsequently in 1964, the name was changed to Indian Association of Trained Social Workers (IATSW). The term “trained” was preferred to “professional” by the social workers at that time indicating uncertainty of their identity. The IATSW published a quarterly journal Social Work Forum from 1963. IATSW was a fairly active Delhi-based association for some years. When a new power centre emerged in another city, IATSW witnessed serious internecine squabbles and in 1981 it went out of existence. There has been a recent trend of social workers forming into associations in some cities without having to bother about the controls of a central organization. The prominent among them is the National Association of Professional Social Workers in India (NAPSWI) based at Delhi formed in 2005. Social workers in the psychiatric setting enjoy comparatively more recognition than social work personnel in other clinical sectors. Being aware of the important role of a psychiatric social worker, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) at Bangalore introduced a Master’s degree programme in Psychiatric Social Work way back in 1968. Psychiatric social workers were the first group to have a fairly stable organization. In 1972, the Indian Society of Psychiatric Social Workers was formed and in 1986 it became the Indian Society of Professional Social Workers, the first group to confidently claim that they are professionals. The society publishes the Indian Journal of Psychiatric Social Work.
Is Social Work a Profession in India?3
Abraham Flexner (1915) was the first to address the professional status of social work in a systematic manner. The word “professional” in its broadest sense is the opposite of the word “amateur”. In this sense, a person is a “professional”, if his entire time is devoted to an activity, as against one who is only transiently so engaged. Occupations that were once non-professional have evolved into professions. The term profession, as opposed to business or handicraft, is a title of peculiar distinction with many activities. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, and nurses speak of their “profession”. Their claims are accepted if they are able to affix to their names a combination of letters of an academic degree. On this basis social work qualify with the degree MSW or BSW.
Flexner stated six criteria for a profession:
He says that a profession is a brotherhood and if the word could be purified of its invidious implications, a caste. A strong class consciousness develops. But though externally somewhat aristocratic in form, professions are democratic institutions. The social worker derives his material from science and learning, from economics, ethics, law, social sciences, psychology and medicine. On the score of rapid evolution of a professional self-consciousness, there is no doubt as the annual conferences of social workers abundantly testify. Professions may not be cultivated for mere profit. At the same time, they cannot develop on the basis of volunteer or underpaid service. Well trained men and women cannot be attracted to a vocation that does not promise a decent living wage in return for competent service. Flexner concluded that on the whole, at that stage, social work was hardly eligible to be called a profession in the sense in which medicine and engineering were professions. The conclusion of Flexner was a century ago. However, Flexner had appreciation for the professional spirit of social work. In so far as accepted professions are prosecuted at a mercenary level, law and medicine are ethically no better than trades. Social work appeals strongly to the humanitarian and spiritual element.
Four decades later, Greenwood (1957) found that social work satisfied the five basic attributes of a profession:
The positive endorsement of Greenwood was not shared by Etzioni (1969) who observed that social work was at best a semi-profession. But Specht (1972) was harsh on social work stating that it was an “insecure profession” flirting from “one institutional alliance to another and from theory to theory”. But by the end of the century social work has gained wide recognition as a profession in the West. Professions, in course of time, get commodified (Kopytoff, 1986) in the globalized, market economy with profit maximization as the principal goal. Even the finest human value ‘Love’ has become a commodity through the highly marketed Valentine’s Day. Medicine , law , teaching and other professions have become highly commoditized depriving the common people of professional services of good quality. Social work is not an exception to the process of commodification. Harris (2002) asserts that social work has become a business as the traditional distinction between social work as a non-commercial activity in the state and voluntary sectors, and private commercial activity driven by profit motive has been disappearing. Further , managerialism4 has become a prominent element in social work. In India, social work does not enjoy the status of a profession ; it does not fulfil the criteria of Flexner or Greenwood. Medicine, law and engineering are market-driven professions with high social acceptance and demand. Clinical social work, like clinical psychology, is viewed as an adjunct profession to the medical profession in health settings. Physiotherapy like medicine is a professional programme, and physiotherapists used to prefix Dr to their names till the judiciary intervened and restrained them from doing so to prevent prescribing drugs by them. Yet, many physiotherapists continue to prefix Dr to their names to protect their “social standing”. This is an illustration of the market-dictated demand for professional recognition of occupations. Social work practice, as it stands today, has three components: clinical social work, developmental social work, and social action. Developmental social work includes skill development of youth, women’s development, self-help groups, micro-credit, and many other developmental activities. But this sphere has actors belonging to diverse professional and social backgrounds, besides social work graduates. The third and most vital component aims at the prevention of social and individual maladies by effecting social change through advocacy, conscientization, mass mobilization, collective action, and social activism for social justice, social equity, corruption free society, human rights, environmental sustainability, etc. Political parties, NGOs, social activists and social workers are involved in these challenging tasks. But the contribution of professional social workers is marginal as only a handful of social work graduates are active in social action. For serving the large majority of the people in India, who are poor and marginalized, professional status is not necessary. On the other hand the professional tag may be an impediment.
Social Work Practice and Curricula: A Review
Social work theorist Gore (1981) mentions eight tasks for social work practice.
After four decades of social work practice in the country, India’s foremost social work theorist and former Director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences Gore considers delivery and administration of services to client- systems the principal focus of social work practice. On advocacy and social action he prefers a soft approach within the ambit of law. He views discrimination and poverty only as handicaps like physical and mental disability. In contrast, Adiseshiah, educationist and economist (1981), is critical of this approach of Indian social work. Social work practice deals with some of the maladies and malodorous symptoms of our society. But behind the exploited labourer, behind the undernourished gestating mother and malnourished child, behind the delinquent and the deviant adolescent, and behind the oppressed Dalits and tribal communities, stands our society with its unequal ownership rights and unjust social relationships. At present, social work develops its concepts and methodological frames on the casualties thrown up by such a society; it has not done anything significant about righting such a wrong society (Adiseshiah, 1981).
Kendall (1967) distinguishes social workers who are “people helpers” from those who are “system-changers” and maintains that both will have a common base of knowledge, but suggests that there is a trend toward a “two-track” curriculum for the profession. Based on a study of TISS alumni, Ramachandran (1986) concludes that there are two different streams of social workers with distinctly different perspectives of social work practice. The “Great Divide” is the name of this feature given by Ramachandran. In the 1970s, ‘Radical Social Work’ emerged in Britain, Canada and Australia as a distinct social work approach because the dominant case work approach individualized and pathologised clients while ignoring the structural factors contributing to their problems including mental illness (Bailey and Brake,1975). The book “Radical Social Work” edited by Bailey and Brake examines many issues such as the potential of systems models for radical social work practice; the strengths and limitations of community development approaches; relevance of sociological theories for social work practices; and social work and gay rights. Radical social work is based on the “understanding the position of the oppressed in the context of the social and economic structure they live in”. In the twenty first century the characteristics of radical social work practice are retaining a commitment to good practice; working alongside service users and carers (e.g.: new movements like the disability movement or mental health users’ movement); and political campaigning and collective action (Ferguson,2009).
Social work curricula in India are basically borrowed from the West with its roots in Judeo-christian philosophy and mainly from the USA, which aim at helping people adjust to an industrial, urban, modern and metropolis-dominated social milieu. Social work in the West addressed to help the deviants of the system, to adjust to it, and to provide remedial services to those who become the victims of the new social system. Our curricula were thus derived from the remedial, rehabilitative, residual model of social work practice in the West (Desai, 1981). While Indian social work educators were over-emphasizing on Freudian personality theories, “students were learning about traumatic implications of over-strict toilet training in a country with an extraordinarily casual attitude towards defecation” (Rao, 1969). Social work practice calls for the skills of the biologist, the medical engineer, the social psychologist, the sociologist, the political economist, and the social activist. Hence Adiseshiah (1981) asserts that the typical faculty of a department of social work should represent an amalgam of the various social science disciplines and not merely specialists in social work because of the multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary path of social work practice.
The review of social work education and practice by all member schools of ASSWI in 1977 made a strong recommendation for the future direction of social work education. Social Work education should transcend its limited concern with social welfare activities in the cities, and view its concerns and priorities in the wider spectrum of social development. The entire structure, organization and curriculum of social work education required to be redesigned to enable the profession to meet social realities. In order that social workers do not make themselves redundant, they must shift their emphasis from the remedial function to the developmental and widen the concerns from urban to the rural base to meet the various challenges. Within the constitutional framework of the country, social workers should adopt advocacy and promote social action to federate and protect the exploited groups, and to effect social change (Nair, 1981a). But sadly this recommendation is relevant even now.
Social work education as it has evolved across the world cannot escape the two-stream curricula for “people helpers” and “system-changers” within the broad, integrated whole. But whether to be a clinical practitioner or a social change functionary is the choice of the social work graduate as both the streams are not mutually exclusive. TISS has gone to the other extreme of designating different functional areas as different MA (Social Work) degrees, which could be in an integrated degree, with foundation courses, concentration area courses and electives. By dividing a degree into sub-degrees, what gets divided is the professional socialization of social work graduates. But the present multi- concentration arrangement may help recruitment of more faculty to justify such an initiative without meaningful faculty integration.
Quantity Versus Quality
Social work education courses have been growing at an exponential rate not because of societal demands but because of the interests of the promoters. That is the reason for the excessive concentration of social work programmes in certain regions of the country whereas areas which might benefit from social work education centres are deprived of access to social work education. Another issue of serious concern is the poor quality of education imparted in most of the social work educational institutions. Social work departments of some universities have the advantage of adequate number of qualified teachers, while many social work educational institutions are devoid of good quality teachers. A large number of colleges which run social work courses are private, self- financing institutions which prefer to hire contract teachers. Out of the total 9.33 lakh teaching positions in state-run and private colleges in India, 40 per cent are on contract (Times of India, November 10, 2013). Even in the central and state universities, around 40 per cent of the vacancies of teachers are not filled in with qualified permanent teachers. These non-regular teachers are designated part-time, temporary or guest lecturers or professors. Temporary teachers are retained for six to eight months. Most of them do not possess a research degree. Even the mandatory requirement of a pass in NET prescribed by the UGC is not insisted upon. As a large number of aspirants are willing to work for low remuneration, educational institutions prefer contract teachers who are made to work longer hours for a pittance. Salaries to temporary teachers range from 4,000 to 20,000 rupees per month. Some colleges are reported to pay as low as rupees 2,500 per month. Further, these teachers need not be given leave, medical reimbursement, provident fund or gratuity. Slave labour at its worst and these teachers are expected to inculcate social work values in the students.
Social work education has stiff competition from management as well as development studies. New degree courses in social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility add to the competition. For instance, graduates from the Indian Institute of Rural Management at Anand generally score over MSWs in the employment market. Employability of social work graduates from most of the social work educational institutions is a matter of serious concern similar to that faced by the majority of the engineering graduates churned out by many AICTE approved engineering colleges. Nair (1983) in a study of social welfare manpower in Tamilnadu observed that three-fourths of the voluntary organizations surveyed did not find the need to appoint social work graduates for any position. For jobs in the state government, social work was prescribed only for certain categories, and even for those jobs degrees in sociology, psychology and other social sciences were considered. The findings of Nair’s study more than three decades ago are valid even now. A highly rated human rights organization in Tamilnadu engaged in child rights, juvenile justice, RTI, Dalit rights, prevention of custodial deaths, panchayat governance, protection of coastal zones and livelihood of fisherfolk, and other rights-based campaigns and action do not have any social worker among its staff. A social worker with MSW joined the organization , but he did not complete six months in the organization because of the “strenuous” nature of work. The organization since then decided not to opt for a social work graduate and the three professional social workers in the governing board failed to convince the organization’s personnel team that includes the Director which takes all decisions collectively. Like medicine, social work is a practice-led profession. But unlike medical education, social work education is generally imparted by teachers without field practice. For a human service profession like social work, practice and theory should go hand in hand with a strong base of spirituality. Extensive academicization has been harming the professional preparation of social work students. Engineering education in India, in our fast developing economy, is witnessing an anomalous phenomenon of a large number of engineering colleges with numerous vacant seats in colleges and shortage of employable engineering graduates. Social work education is facing a similar situation. The ASSWI approved in 1981 an one-year Associateship in Social Work (ASW) formulated by Nair (1981b) to enable social work teachers to gain field experience. The scheme had the assurance of financial and other support from NGOs and other organizations. But with change in guard of the ASSWI, the project was dropped like the other initiatives.
Social work research is another weak link in social work education. Practice based research is a rarity . Many social work teachers have research degrees in social sciences. Teachers with PhDs in social work often have their degrees based on dissertations on social problems. Further, all research degrees are not genuine. MPhil and PhD degrees are available for a price these days. An enterprising social worker was awarded PhD by a deemed-to-be university with the help of a benevolent research guide who arranged outsourcing of drafting questionnaire, data collection, statistical analysis and drafting the report. A doctorate degree for a reasonable amount ; a good business proposition. That MPhil and PhD degrees are sold is well-known. But those responsible for preventing this malady choose to be silent. Even astrologers and other pseudo-professionals are acquiring doctorate degrees and adding Dr as prefix to their names. Plagiarism is rampant in all academic and professional subjects. A senior social work professor, found to his dismay, that his articles were copied verbatim in a multi-volume encyclopedia of social work published by an institute in Lucknow without bothering to acknowledge his name. Exasperated by this plagiarism, he wrote to many sharing his anguish over such an act of ‘piracy’. Management specialists based on serious research on Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita find their contemporary relevance for management practice in India. At the same time, hardly any research has been undertaken by social work academics or practitioners on the utility of these and other religious texts like Upanishads in crisis intervention, conflict resolution, problem solving, team building, leadership, etc. to help social work practice.
In contrast to the situation in India, Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and National Association of Social Workers (NASW) are the two national organizations of social work educators and social workers, respectively in the United States. CSWE is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accreditation agency for social work education (BSW and MSW) in the US. Schools of social work (institutional members) and social work educators are the members of CSWE. National Association of Social Workers (NASW) prescribe social work practice standards and enforces the Code of Ethics. The Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) of NASW upholds good standards of social work practice.
Professional education in medicine, law, engineering, etc. are regulated by statutory councils like medical council and AICTE, though their functioning has come under criticism. Social work education lacks any regulatory authority. Indian Conference of Social Work (now Indian Council of Social Welfare) identified the need for a national council of social work in the 1960s. The efforts of many social workers finally took concrete shape in the form of the draft National Council for Professional Social Work Bill in 1993. After some hiccups at the UGC, the bill has been with the government of India since 1995. When nationally important bills have been kept in abeyance for one reason or another, the bill on social work has least priority for the lawmakers.
Dilemmas of Social Work
The national consultation of social work educators held at TISS in 2012 (Nadkarni and Desai, 2012) made the following commitment: “The profession has resolved that as professional social workers and representatives of social work educational institutions in the country, we are together in solidarity for social justice and equality in favour of the poor and the marginalized sections of the society”. As an emotional rhetoric, this statement formulated by the promoters of the national consultation reads well. But most of the educational institutions are run by groups with commercial interests. The courses they prefer are market-driven. Will these institutions permit “genuine” education for social justice and social action ? Even universities have serious limitations. Can social activists be trained in the regimented class rooms through a structured curriculum ? Can social work education disassociate itself from HR education which helps benefit the corporate organizations ? These are major dilemmas of social work in India.
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