The largest single stakeholder in social work education is the State, for it spends crores of rupees in salary and maintenance grants supporting such instruction in schools of social work and departments attached to government colleges and private ones across the length and breadth of the State. How does this education benefit the common man, the poor, the needy, the physically and mentally challenged? It is the primary responsibility of the State to find this out. The present paper seeks to provide a broad outline of the areas to be explored through the proposed venture.
Social work education in Tamilnadu is at least six decades old. Therefore it is time to take stock of what it has achieved, especially in terms of the extent to which the poor and the needy in this state are being helped along by trained social workers. For one thing, how many social workers at all are there in the field, actively serving these groups? If the earlier study of 1969 is any indication, very few will be, indeed. For, Ramachandran’s study revealed that percentages of those who specialized in tribal welfare and rural welfare and who were actually employed in the same fields were 0 percent and 3 percent respectively. PMIR (Personal Management and Industrial Relations) fared no better with just 54% in the same situation.
The provocation for raising the above questions is two fold: 1) the 1969 study cited above and 2) the fact that the Tamilnadu government is spending crores of rupees year after year supporting social work education paying the salaries for the teachers and cost of the colleges’ maintenance. Thus being the No.1 stakeholder in social work education, the state government should be concerned about the benefit derived especially by the weaker and the vulnerable people. Actually the state, with its huge resources in terms of funds and infrastructure needed to undertake suitable surveys in this regard, should carry them out, not once but repeatedly at reasonable intervals. The fact remains that it has not done so even once in the last six decades.
Quality of Education
Assuming that students’ performance reflects the quality of education imparted to them, there is a need to take a closer look at their performance, preferably by taking a second look at the examination papers the students have attempted, namely the answer scripts, to be precise. Since there is a great deal of mutuality among autonomous colleges (for example, they value one another’s answer-scripts criss-cross) that could, among other things, result in compromising on standards on a reciprocal basis. Similarly scrutiny of field work reports filed by the students is also indicated for an objective evaluation. The MSW, M.Phil and Ph.D theses too must undergo similar scrutiny. This may sound like nitpicking, but let us not take anything for granted.
The Methodological Question
The state government should form a committee of reasonable size, and consisting of present and former professors and practitioners and a couple of officials from the Education Department. Their task will be to decide on the methodological issues in regard to sample size, manner of selecting the same, tools to be devised and the statistical procedures warranted by the task undertaken. The committee will carry out the survey and submit a report on their findings to the government.
Ramachandran’s report, cited earlier, bristles with a host of ideas regarding areas to be investigated. Some of them are: “Is the concept of specialization (in social work) a purely academic innovation or has it a meaningful role in the present socio-economic context?”. This question could be recast in the present context, as follows: The government is instrumental in producing hundreds of social workers every year, but does the same government, through its health and other agencies, absorb these social workers into suitable positions and roles? How many social workers are actually there in government hospitals, in child care and detention centres (such as Reception Homes), in corrective homes for those booked under ITPA? How many are in VRC and DDRC (working with the handicapped)?. Let the government collect the required information from its own, numerous departments and see for itself how effectively it is utilizing their services after spending crores of rupees to train and educate them to become graduates, postgraduates and doctorates in the field of social work. One is almost sure that the outcome will be shocking to all the stakeholders.
Are They in Sync?
Ramachandran further suggests that studies are necessary to determine the extent to which the present social work education programmes – in terms of their objectives, scope and contents, mode of teaching and developing competence and positive attitudes to the society are in tune with the basic socio-economic context of the country.
One of the implications of the above question is do social case work and social group work actually deliver the goods and how relevant are they in the present context? How effectively are they being practised, if at all? What do the clients think about it? Have they really benefited from it? Studies in this regard would seem necessary, among others. Also, do social workers practise community organization in the manner in which it is being taught today? Or will social action be more effective? Do social workers practise social action and what risks do they run in doing so?
Activism Doesn’t Take Off
Gore’s (2002) observations are intriguing. First he says that the recognition of the special needs of the (suppressed and exploited rural) groups and the “effort to organize these groups to articulate their special needs and to demand their fulfilment led to a totally new paradigm which cast social workers in the role of leaders of confrontation movements”. The very next statement made by Gore weakens – and, almost nullifies – the new paradigm theory. For Gore adds, however, “not a large number of professional social workers have actually adopted this new stance”. In other words social workers are well-entrenched in their conventional, remedial and rehabilitative roles and nothing much has really changed.
Time to Take a Fresh Look
Gore concludes by reaffirming that all said and done, no radical change has occurred in the roles being played by social workers by stating that unlike the volunteer activist, “a professional tends to function at the level of already recognized needs and uses less militant methods of meeting them” though he/she can sometimes adopt unconventional modes of intervention if he/she is backed by an independent NGO. If this is the state of affairs after 60 years social work education (eighty in the north) is it not time for the stakeholders have a fresh look at the social work curriculum and methods?
Desai (2002) more or less echoes Gore’s observations when she says that except for a few leading institutions “available information shows that the large bulk of programmes in social work education seriously lack qualitative inputs and not much has changed for them” (since the 1970’s when Desai carried out the study on which her present observations are based).
Being the largest single stakeholder in social work education, the government is duty-bound to undertake an impact-assessment study and see for itself the extent to which the society has benefitted by the services of graduates so regularly and assiduously being produced year after year. The methodology of the study is something that experts should hammer out once the decision to undertake this venture is made. Broadly, the questions to be answered are: 1) Is this specialized education producing the expected and desired results? 2) Are the curricula relevant and valid in the present context? 3) Are the trainees putting up a reasonably good, if not an exemplary, performance?
Systematic research and its outcome can be a remedy to many social ills and provide the much-needed motivation for change as well as the means to bring about the same. Stakeholders in any venture ought to employ this mechanism from time to time to find out whether their investments are yielding the anticipated results both in terms of quantity and quality. In a nut-shell, in the present context, it is worthwhile finding out whether sixty years of social work education has helped the nation grow from strength to strength or has it merely been one year of instruction and experience followed by fifty-nine more years of repetition?.
1. Desai, A. S., 2002, “Social Work Profession–Some Reflections” In K.N. George and P.K. Visvesvaran (eds.). Social Work Today – Present Realities & Future Prospects, Chennai: Madras School of Social Work.
2. Gore, M.S., 2002, “Changing Perspectives in Social Work” In K.N. George and P.K.Visvesvaran. (eds.). ibid.
3. Ramachandran, P. and Padmanabha, A., 1969, Professional Social Workers in India: A Study of their Employment Position and Functions, Bombay: United Asia.
M.Phil, Principal (Retd.), Madras School of Social Work.
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