Social work education in India is in its eightieth year and yet social work has not been accepted as a profession by the major stakeholders, particularly the government. The present article starts with a discussion on Social Welfare and Social Work. It traces the evolution of social work as a profession globally from “applied philanthropy” and “scentific charity”. It goes on to examine the professionalization of social work in India. Detailed analysis of the weaknesses of social work education and utilization of social welfare manpower have also been attempted in the article. The author concludes that social work in India is not a full profession and it is only a semi-profession.
Humanitarian services to people in distress or with disability have always been extended by individuals, families and religious groups. In course of time, these services became organized under the auspices of the State, voluntary agencies and other private bodies under the broad umbrella Social Welfare. The Fifth International Survey by UN in 1970 states:
Social welfare is an organized function and is regarded as a body of activities designed to enable individuals, families, groups and communities to cope with the social problems of changing conditions. But, in addition to and extending beyond the range of its responsibilities for specific services, social welfare has a further function within the broad area of a country’s social development. In this larger sense, social welfare should play a major part in ensuring that the human and material resources of the country are effectively mobilized and deployed to deal successfully with the social requirements of change and thus contribute to nation building.——Social welfare ... tasks may consist of providing services as a response to social needs or problems ; predicting the emergence of such situations and taking preventive measures against their occurrence ; or helping to create conditions conducive to social development.
Historically, during the early Vedic period (1700 to 600 BC) the communitarian society of tribal republics in India “functioned like an extended family” where “everybody’s needs were catered to by everybody” writes Shastri (1966). He adds that “The whole business of helping people in need was everybody’s business mainly handled in a collective way. Thus everybody was client and agent both on different occasions or for different purposes”. The tribal republics steadily combined into kingdoms. The emergence of the agrarian society and urbanization resulted in social stratification with hierarchy. Shastri observes:
Earlier when there was common ownership of property by the tribe, dana was a protection as of right, against starvation, for the sick, the aged, the maimed and the weak, who had the first claim on social property. But when private property and class rule came across (during the late Vedic period and after), dana was converted from an instrument of social insurance to a privilege of the ruling class. Dana (helping the needy) “became a voluntary virtue” and charity done by Kings and Kshatriyas (ruling elites). It also lost the character of an equal and general distribution (Shastri, 1966).
The first significant treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy to guide the rulers was Arthashastra of Kautilya (350 to 283 BC), philosopher, statesman, economist, and advisor to the Maurya emperors. It states that among the duties of the king is the welfare of his subjects (1967). “In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good , but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good”. It is also specified that the king should personally attend to his subjects waiting at his door with petitions, particularly the minors, the aged, the afflicted, the helpless and women. It adds that it is the duty of the king to provide them with maintenance; he should also provide subsistence to helpless women during their pregnancy and to their children after birth.
After Independence, the Constitution of the Indian Republic and the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution spurred numerous social welfare measures under the central and state governments. In fact social welfare initiatives, particularly by the states, have become highly competitive in the electoral politics. A separate Ministry of Social Welfare came into being in the central government in 1964 replacing the department of social security. The Ministry and its functions changed from time to time, and from 1998 the nomenclature was changed into the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment dealing with the welfare of scheduled castes and backward classes; and welfare of senior citizens, differently abled, substance abuse victims and those with deviant behaviour problems needing correctional service. Different Ministries are looking after women and child development, tribal welfare, welfare of minorities, etc. Matters concerning scheduled castes and backward classes are also handled by other Ministries. Social welfare is a state subject according to the Constitution and hence state governments have elaborate administrative arrangements for social welfare management.
Social Work as a Profession
Social welfare encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, while social work is a profession in the wide sphere of social welfare. Its history in the West dates back to the Charity Organisation Society in UK and USA. Its journey to the present status as a profession was one of uncertainty from the time it was known as “scientific charity”. Mary Richmond referred to it as “applied philanthropy” in 1898. Educator Simon Patten coined the term “Social Workers” in 1900 to refer to friendly visitors and settlement house residents.
Social work is a commonly used term in our daily life as it is a taken for granted idea. But as Nadarajah (2014) observes that once in a way we have to go back to the basics and ask questions like ‘what is social’ and ‘what is work in social work’. All work is social, so what is distinctive about social work? Is social work, work at all? Is it work as we understand work with remuneration? If work is to be viewed social work should it not be served spiritually and selflessly? O’Brein (2004) says that exploration of social work’s ‘social’ component has three parts. One, examination of contemporary sociological themes with a view to situating social work theory in a wider framework of thinking about change in the contemporary world. Two, assessment of the work that has been done on the historical emergence of ‘social’ as a discrete arena of public and private intervention. When did the ‘social’ as something that could be worked on or in or through come from? Three, consideration of some recent formulations of these ideas of the ‘social’ in the social work’s literature. Rojek,et al (1988) conceptualize ‘social’ “as the means which allow social life to escape material pressures and politico-moral uncertainties”. 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.
Nadarajah (2014) views social work as a mode of engagement, which is an expression of our sympathetic/compassionate sentiment, born out of our sociability and which is directed at those in need of help. Social work stems from the general concern for the well-being of others and the particular concern for those in distress. It is directed on a voluntary basis, at helping people both materially and/or non-materially, enabled by our moral sense. “It supports integration and attachment and, directly or indirectly, contributes to the orderedness of social life, to the sustainability of society. Today, social work, through our sympathetic/compassionate sense has also extended beyond the human world to include all of nature”. Jordan (1997) says that social work “begins where community has difficulty in providing” and it “seeks to strengthen the bonds of inclusive membership”.
Is social work same as social service? Is the provision of material goods and services social work? Social work as a profession “has always had some difficulty in defining what exactly what it is and indeed also in saying very succinctly what it does” (Brown, 1996). The British Association of Social Workers (1977) makes a distinction between social service and social work functions. “In our view the provision of various practical and financial services, even when these are specific services to people with handicaps or special needs, must be distinguished from the provisions of those services which are designed to promote the improved functioning of an individual through the medium of personal relationship”. The Association report identifies the first function as a social service function and the second as a social work function.
The global definition of social work approved by the general meeting of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) general assembly in July, 2001:
The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships, and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to Social work.
In July, 2014 the global definition of social work was modified by the IFSW and IASSW as given below:
Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being.
The IFSW-IASSW definition may be amplified at national and regional levels.Perhaps for the first time in a century, social work is defined as a practice-based profession and an academic discipline by IFSW and IASSW jointly in 2014 which was missing in the 2001 definition. The primary thrust areas of social work in the latest definition are social change and social development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Social work is to have a promotional role, obviously, in association with other disciplines and professions. The earlier focus on “problem solving in human relationships” as a primary focus appears to have been dispensed with in the 2014 definition. So also the statement that “social work intervenes at the point, where people interact with the environments” in the earlier definition does not find a place in the recent definition. Perhaps the statement that “social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being” is intended as a substitute for the earlier assertions. Social cohesion is a broad concept which is more a vision and a desirable state in a society than the goal of a particular profession. So also the empowerment and liberation of people is an objective of social activists and political movements including revolutionary groups in which social work may join as a participating discipline or a profession. The 2014 definition of social work also does not specify the professional role of social work with clarity.
Occupations strive to get the status of professions. Hence there are more professions now than ever before. And this trend will continue. Vollmer and Mills (1966) define professionalization as a “dynamic process whereby many occupations can be observed to change certain crucial characteristics in the direction of a ‘profession’ and profession is defined as ‘an ideal type’ of occupational organization which does not exist in reality, but which provides the model of the form of occupational organization that would result if any occupational group became completely professionalized”.
Hughes (1963) says that a profession “delivers esoteric services- advice or action or both - to individuals, organizations or government, to whole classes or groups of people or to the public at large”. Habenstein (1963) states that profession is “basically an ideology, a set of rationalizations about the worth and necessity of certain areas of work which, when internalized, gives the practitioner a moral justification for privilege, if not licence and which, when recognized by society, legitimates their penetration into the personal or social relations of people who need or believe they need help”.
Why are occupations keen to get to the pedestal of professional status? Profession, according to Hughes (1963), is “nothing but an accolade, which the members of an occupation seek to have bestowed upon themselves by the public in order to enhance their own role dominance, honorific standing and market punch”. Flexner (1915), twentieth century reformer of medical and higher education in USA and Canada, is of the view that profession is a “brotherhood and if the word could be purified of its invidious implications, a caste”. Goode (1957) states that each profession is a “community within a community”. He says that each established profession is a community without physical locus and the goal of each aspiring occupation is becoming the “community of profession”.
Addressing “social workers” in 1915, Flexner specified six criteria to be fulfilled by a profession.
On an assessment of the extent of fulfillment of the six criteria by social work, Flexner concluded that at that stage, social work was hardly eligible to be considered a profession in the sense in which medicine and engineering were professions. However, Flexner had appreciation for the professional spirit of social work.
But after four decades, Greenwood (1957) endorsed the claim of social work as a profession as it satisfied the following five basic characteristics of a profession.
b.Norms: Professionals have proper ways to behave so as to involve in their work personally.
c.Symbols: Insignia, emblem, folklore, buzzwords, distinctions, titles and awards.
Greenwood’s endorsement of the professional status of social work was met with many questions on the theoretical base of social work. The famous study on “industrial society and social welfare” by Wilensky and Lebeaux (1958) found the knowledge base of social work shaky because of the long- term concern of the social work profession with “psychic determinism” of the behaviour of people and the over-reliance on psycho-dynamic theories whose scientific status was uncertain. Etzioni (1969) concluded that social work like nursing and teaching is a semi-profession. The training of semi-professions is “shorter, their status is less legitimate, their right to privileged communication less established, there is less of a specialized body of knowledge, and they have less autonomy from supervision or societal control than the ‘professions’ ”. Bartlett (1970), who modernized the Person-Interaction-Environment construct and authored the famous book on the common knowledge base of social work practice also felt that the psycho-dynamic theoretical foundation of social work practice lacked soundness. Specht (1972) described social work as an “insecure profession flirting from one institutional alliance to another and from theory to theory”. Howe (1994) asserts that “there are early signs that social work’s intellectual outlook is fragmenting in its long search of a common base. The unity that was once sought in both theory and practice — is being abandoned”. Being a child of modernity “social work now finds itself in a postmodern world, uncertain whether or not there are any deep and unwavering principles which define the essence of its character and hold it together as a content enterprise”.
The “social workers” at the National Conference on Charities and Corrections at Baltimore in 1915 were disappointed that social work did not get the stamp of approval as a profession from Flexner, the then most influential authority on professions and professional education in the United States and Canada. His words carried the “weight and authority of scientific truth”; such was the force behind the “Flexner myth” (Austin, 1983). Flexner was critical of the way the accepted professions were prosecuted at a mercenary level. Hence he observed that law and medicine were no better than trades, while social work appealed strongly to the humanitarian element. Flexner’s views motivated “social workers” to address the lacunae pointed out by him which spurred Mary Richmond’s “applied philanthropy” to emerge as a respected profession in many countries before the close of the twentieth century. In 1950, the first licensing for independent social work practice went into effect in San Diego, California. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCFC), formed under a new law ,which replaced the former General Social Care Council in August 2012, regulates 16 categories of professionals including social workers , clinical psychologists. physiotherapists and dieticians.
The 2014 joint IASSW-IFSW definition of social work is at considerable variance from the ground realities. Social work employment positions in almost all countries mean working with the individuals, groups, families and communities. Social change and social development may be a direct or indirect outcome of certain social work assignments. But social workers generally work as “people helpers” rather than as “system changers” (Kendall, 1967) even now. Kendall, with her long years of leadership in social work education, maintained that “both have a common knowledge base” and suggested that “there is a trend towards a ‘two-track’ curriculum for the profession”.
“Seva Parmo Dharma” is the hallmark of the Indian ethos which means service is the ultimate duty of each person. Helping people in distress is a universal duty (sadharanadharma) of each individual. Bhagavad Gita teaches that the bliss of self-realization is in working for the social good of all (lokasangrahamevapi sampasyankartumarharsi). The great sage philosopher Yajnavalkya states the general human duties as non-violence, truth - speaking, non-stealing, personal hygiene, control of the senses, dana (charity to the needy), daya (pity or compassion), kshanthi (forgiveness), and dama (self - restraint or equanimity). Daya (compassion) is not merely an emotional urge of sympathy. It is an active principle of help in all situations of suffering. Daya is action or work process (Kripa) directed towards the suffering one for his benefit and good (hitaya subhayacha). In the three words kriya (work process), hita (benefit), and subha (good), it is possible to include all the contents of social work (Moorthy, 2014).
Indian society has a history of social reform movements from time to time against social ills, discriminatory customs and other unhealthy practices. Swami Vivekananda, an iconic social and religious reformer and a great philosopher, said that “even the least work done for others awakens the powers within ; even thinking the least good of others gradually instils into the heart the strength of a lion. I love you all ever so much, but I wish you all to die working for others”. Mahatma Gandhi linked social reform movement with the mass political movement for Indian Independence. Social action by people themselves, including Dalits and women, using picketing, satyagraha, mass non-cooperation movement and other methods was preferred by Gandhiji. While it was aggressive, agitational, action-oriented and collectivistic in its economic and political philosophy, it was constructive in its content. The model of social reform and social construction evolved by Gandhiji was an ortho-genetic Indian model (Moorthy, 2014).
Professionalization of Social Work in India
Gandhiji’s constructive work has his trusteeship philosophy as its base, which means those who have surplus wealth, knowledge, skill or other assets beyond their needs may share with those in a disadvantageous position in the society. Going into the philosophical details of trusteeship theory is not needed for the present article. Of great significance for this article is the Sarvodaya concept of Gandhiji. Udaya means progress or rise, sarva means all or total. Sarvodaya is total progress of an individual, and also all round progress or prosperity of all,that is of individual and society. Sarvodaya is an ideology as well as a method of social construction,which is an extension of the trusteeship theory. The constituent units are all the village communities. According to the sarvodaya plan outlined by Mahatma Gandhi, and later emphasized by Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narain, every village community should be self-reliant in regard to primary necessities. Sarvodaya is total revolution of the Indian society through total revolution of India’s small communities.
Mahatma Gandhi organized training for constructive workers who were drawn from all walks of life. For village development, Gandhiji preferred a Samagra Grama Sevak, a resident holistic village development worker. Gandhi, Bhave and Jayaprakash Narain called for harnessing people’s power or Janshakthi or Lokshakthi, that is energy synergized for the telic and syntelic realization of sarvodaya (Moorthy, 2014). Mahatma Gandhi made the song written by the famous fifteenth century Marathi poet Narasinh Mehta “Vaishnava jan to tene kahiye———” (I call him a Vaishnava who knows the sufferings of others) his clarion call for social service and constructive work.
Social work that evolved in the United States was influenced by the Judeo-Christian philosophy, emphasis on the philosophy of individualism, socio-economic doctrine that advocated laissez faire approach by the state, and improvement in standard of living of citizens through mass consumption of goods and services. Social work accepted the existing nature of American society as basically sound and individuals were expected to adjust to the status quo. Heavily backed by the theory of Freudian individual psychology and psychoanalysis, social case work was the dominant element of social work practice. The professional model of social work was similar to that of a clinical psychologist, that is, objective, neutral and non-judgemental so as to ensure the individual the freedom of choice. It was this “individual-oriented” social work that the American missionary Clifford Manshardt implanted in India in 1936 as the Dorabji Graduate School of Social Work at Bombay in the Nagpada Neighbourhood where he worked with the mill and industrial workers in the Chawls. This model of social work was not what the Indian society needed in the context of its traditions, the existing situation and above all the Gandhian sarvodaya and freedom movements taking place. Indian society is not an individual-centric one; instead family, kinship network and community are intrinsic elements in the life of an Indian.
Social work model in India was borrowed from the USA which aimed at helping people adjust to the capitalist, industrial and metropolis-dominated social mileu. The American model of social work addressed to help the deviants of the system, to adjust to it and to promote remedial services to the victims of the new social system (Nair, 2014 ).The Nagapada Neighbourhood House of the American Marathi Mission, where the Graduate School of Social Work was first housed with its first batch of twenty students, was the seat of similar remedial programmes for the residents of the Chawls. Desai (1981), who was the chairperson of the second UGC Review Committee (1980), says that our curricula were derived from the remedial, rehabilitative, residual model of social work practice in the West. No wonder that psychiatric social work and other types of clinical social work have found acceptance in India.
A study of the alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences during the fifty years since its inception by Ramachandran (1986 ) examined three vistas of social work practice: (i) perpetuating the system, (ii) transitional posture, and (iii) reforming the system. Those who accept the perpetuation of the present system argue that the pathological situation that affects individuals, groups and communities is likely to be accelerated in an industrial society. On the other side of the Great Divide are the reformists who believe that their role is to promote social change and to protect the human rights of all. The transitional posture favours change in the methods of social work, rather than institutional change, to meet the emerging needs of an industrial society. Social work practice in the future will depend to a great extent on the global economic and political changes. In case the emphasis is on the market economy, the security and welfare of the vulnerable segments of the population will only be partially attended to. A middle way needs to be worked out by the social work profession to balance the market economy with the social sector so that the social life of the people will improve.
Regulating social work education and recognition by the government have been the serious concern of social welfare leaders in the country.The Indian Conference of Social Work (now, Indian Conference of Social Welfare) was the first organization to propose the creation of a statutory body to regulate social work education in India in the 1950s. Since then the two UGC review committees on social work education, Association of Schools of Social Work in India, and others were demanding the establishment of a regulatory council. Finally, a draft bill was framed by some social work educators and practitioners in the early 1990s, which was forwarded to the Ministry of Education, which, in turn, referred to the UGC for its opinion. The UGC felt that it was competent to regulate social work education under the UGC Act and a separate council was not needed. Subsequently, the UGC itself reversed its opinion and finally the draft bill was sent to the Department of Higher Education (MHRD), where it has been gathering dust for the past two decades.
The draft “National Council of Professional Social Work in India Bill” concedes that in India there is social work which is different from professional social work. The bill defines professional social work as a form of practice which follows established and acknowledged methods of social work carried out by professional social workers. While the “established and acknowledged methods” are wide open to differing interpretation, the definition implies that professional social work is what professional social workers with BSW or MSW do. A confusing explanation! The recent modifications to the draft bill have some strange additions to accommodate the IGNOU school of social work established in 2007 and a Delhi-based association of social workers called National Association of Professional Social Workers in India (NAPSWI) formed in 2007, with 1,200 members in 2013. While professional social workers in Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Kerala and other states have their own associations, and the Indian Society of Professional Social Work has been in existence from 1970, the newly formed NAPSWI has been given ex-officio status in the draft bill only because it was a part of the national consultation on the bill. It is not a healthy professional conduct.
Community recognition and more importantly recognition by the state is the main expectation of any professional group. A “social worker” is accepted and respected by the community as one who does social good, that is a “do-gooder”, whether he or she is trained to do social work in a professional manner. Even in the USA, UK and other developed countries dispensing material goods and services is a function of social workers. Professional social workers, sarvodaya workers, untrained paid social workers, and voluntary social workers who do charitable work are viewed alike in India. Hence recognition of social workers by the government like that enjoyed by doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, nurses and other professionals continues to be elusive. Consequently, there has been an exponential expansion of social work education programmes at the undergraduate and graduate levels under diverse auspices with a bewildering variety of degrees without any statutory mechanism to regulate the quantity and quality of social work education. In recent years, there has been a spurt in the social work degrees through the distance mode. Indira Gandhi National Open University’s school of social work has the largest number of students for social work through a network of participating social work educational institutions in the country. It offers MSW, MSW (Philanthropy), and MSW (Counselling). Mary Richmond would never have dreamt that more than one hundred years after her use of “applied philanthropy” for want of an appropriate term for social work, an Indian university would prefer a Master’s degree MSW (Philanthropy): a perfect oxymoron. Christ University in Bengaluru offers MSW (HRD and Management) and MSW (Clinical and Community Practice). A national survey of social work degrees in the various educational institutions will help publish a “best seller”. Almost all social work degrees have one set of courses in common: human resource development or management .
Social work curricula in social work educational institutions in India range from ‘excellent’ to ‘very poor’. So also is the quality of the social work faculty. Well-funded central universities and the TISS have qualified teachers, but many self-financing institutions, which run the majority of the social work courses, have teachers who do not even have passed the UGC-mandated NET for teachers. While a small minority of social work faculty has the privilege of fewer working hours, attractive compensation (salary and other perks), international travel, leave, vacation, and social security benefits, a large majority of the teachers are hired on a contract basis. These teachers, without job security, are made to work long hours with low salary and are deprived of leave, vacation, and social security cover. There are teachers who work for a pittance of INR 2,500 per month. Barring the social work courses of IGNOU, distance education programmes run by the universities are in a dismal state. The report of the national consultation for quality enhancement of social work education held during 2011-2012 sponsored by the Planning Commission and supported by the UGC concludes that social work education in India is “a sea of mediocrity with islands of excellence and visibility” (Nadkarni and Desai, 2012).
Profound social work commentator Devi Prasad (2014) identifies five deficits of professional social work in India. These are knowledge deficit, competency deficit, professional deficit, governance deficit, and ideological deficit. Lack of academic work ethic and scholarship, and lack of ability to use social work lens to examine social issues are two important aspects under knowledge deficit. By competency deficit, he means knowledge and skill set deficit. Deteriorating quality of professional social work education and consequently, the decline in the quality of social work profession; commercialization of social work education; and the extensive variation in the curricula in the different schools are the main components of professional deficit. Social work education under varied affiliations and the inadequate capacity of a majority of social work educational institutions in the country are examples of governance deficit. Devi Prasad laments the ideological deficit, that is, the absence of any discussion on the kind of “desirable society” that social workers envision.
Social work education in India is observing its 80th anniversary. Yet, the much expected recognition from the government of India in the form of an Act of Parliament has not materialised. As regards employment, professional social workers are generally recruited in mental health and de-addiction centres, hospitals, family planning extension work, family counselling centres, jails and correctional settings, particularly for probation service, and urban community development agencies, besides industries. The statutory requirement of appointing welfare officers in factories employing 500 or more workers in the Factories Act of 1948 was an opportunity for schools of social work to train students in labour welfare. Labour welfare has over time metamorphosed into Human Resource Management, more popularly known as HR. HR has now become a strategic partner of business and it has outgrown its social work roots.HR itself is having a “professional identity” quite distinct from social work. But social work educational institutions continue to hold on to HR specialization for existential reasons. More and more young persons seek admission to social work educational institutions for HR specialization with the sole ambition to get into corporate organizations in lucrative positions than for any love of social work. Though these HR professionals may have social work degrees, it is an absurdity to consider them as professional social workers. Nair (1983), in his study of social welfare manpower in Tamilnadu, noted three significant findings. One, the jobs of professional social workers like the ones described earlier are low paid with low status in the hierarchy; and the career growth opportunities are fewer. Two, the qualifications prescribed for these jobs are not exclusively social work degree; persons possessing psychology, sociology and other social sciences are also considered. Three, the heads of three-fourths of the voluntary organizations do not consider training in social work necessary for social work assignments in their agencies. These three-decade old findings are valid even today. In September, 2014, the Government Medical College and Hospital at Chandigarh gave the following advertisement (freshersworld.com ):
Medical Laboratory Technologist, qualification: BSc in MLT, salary INR 9,240 per month.
Medical Social Worker, qualification : MSW or MA (Psychology), salary INR 8,000 per month.
There are numerous such examples of the poor remuneration and low status of professional social work positions across the country.
The general quality of social work education is on the decline and field work is the main casualty. Field work is the central pillar of social work education which sows the seed of identification with the social work education in the mind of the young learner. Field work dates back to the period of origin of social work in the COS programmes where the neophytes acquired skills from the experienced employees by sharing the same table and observing them at work. Now, field instruction is the weakest component in social work education in most educational institutions in India. Barring, perhaps IGNOU, all distance education programmes treat field work as picnics to welfare organizations; indeed there is no field work, but only four or five field visits. Vijaya Lakshmi (2014) in a well-crafted article on field work says that one of the hallmarks of a profession is the transfer of knowledge and skills under supervisory guidance to its entrants. The field work supervisors in the faculty are the initiators of the students into the profession aided by the supervisors in the field work settings or agencies. But many organizations do not employ professional social workers, and even when professional social workers are available, they are too overworked to spare time for supervision. In many organizations, the students are entrusted with some work as a relief to the personnel of the agencies. Vijaya Lakshmi brings to light a disturbing fact in the states, where the state support of reimbursement of fees is misused by the college managements. In social work courses of most of the private colleges, the students are attracted with the promise that they need not attend to fieldwork, and their class attendance could be manipulated. Thus students from such institutions are awarded degrees in social work without adequate instruction. She asserts that half-baked products bring down the standard of social work. A serious warning from a distinguished professor as well as a social work practitioner.
There has been a serious concern as regards the weak professional consciousness among professional social workers. The two national organizations - Association of Schools of Social work in India and Indian Association of Trained Social Workers- which were formed in 1961 have disappeared. Nair (2014), a former General Secretary of ASSWI, discusses the rise and fall of these two organizations in an article. In place of the national body of social workers, there are city-based associations of professional social workers. One of them has designated itself as National Association of Professional Social Workers in India with 1,200 life members as in June 2013 though it was formed in 2005 with the backing of IGNOU and Delhi University faculty. The only authentic national association is that of the psychiatric social workers. Formed in 1970 as the Indian Society of Psychiatric Social Work, it changed its name as the Indian Society of Professional Social Work in 1988. The disappointing fact is that even after 45 years of its formation, it has only about 700 members in its rolls as in April, 2015. This reflects the poor level of professional consciousness among social workers. One reason is that the vast majority of the social work graduates are in the HR field. They seldom identify themselves with social work. Rather they consider it below their management identity status. They are generally involved in the HRD Network, the National Institute of Personnel Management, and the Indian Society of Training and Development.
While social work in India has been struggling to get recognition from the Indian state for eight decades, the Cuban communist government chose social work when it felt the need for social work knowledge and skills to address the social problems in Cuba. The post-revolutionary government of Cuba did not initially recognize the need for a cadre of highly trained professional social workers to deal with social ills. Instead, social workers were trained by technical training institutions (TMs) under the Ministry of Public Health. The TMs taught fundamental, focused social work and case management skills to work in social and health care service settings. A dozen such TMs exist today. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its subsequent withdrawal of economic assistance to Cuba and the tightening of the US embargo led to growing social and economic crises throughout the 1990s.This situation convinced Cuban leaders that the country needed trained and qualified social workers to address the worsening problems. Cuba developed a two-pronged social work initiative in response to the social ills related to economic hardships: a university level programme (UP) for educating more advanced social workers and the formation of schools of social work (SSW) for offering rapid social work training programmes for Cuban youth to return to their communities as social workers. In 1997, the Cuban Ministry of Education asked the sociology department at the University of Havana to design an advanced degree for social workers. The University commenced a six-year degree course in 1998 followed by another university two years later. Both offer the licenciature degree (equivalent to a master’s degree in the US) in sociology with concentration in social work. The licenciature students must be high school graduates and most of them are part-time students with full-time jobs as health care social workers. In the Havana University, 100 students are enrolled. The first school of social work was opened by Cuban government in September 2000 for young people aged 16 to 22 followed by three more schools. Two thousand students attend each of these schools and are known as emergentes because they are trained to respond to serious emergent social problems. On completion of training, emergentes are guaranteed social work jobs in communities where they must live. Their salary is considered to be good for Cuban workers. Emergentes can study for their licenciature on a part-time basis in any of the university degree programmes. Cuba’s innovative core curricula integrating social work wih political sociology and political economy are found to be a strong model for social work training in other developing countries (Strug & Teague, 2002). Even US social work educators find many aspects of the Cuban model relevant to their schools,
Social work does not operate in a vacuum (Brown, 1996) and it is a part of the complex organization of society. Manshardt implanted the “exotic plant” (in the words of Dr. P.T.Thomas) of social work in India bypassing India’s national heritage of social reform and social work. The American model of social work, which was individual-centred and curative in function, was transplanted in the country ignoring the social change oriented, macro approach of the Gandhian social reconstruction movement. It is, therefore, understandable that even after eighty years since its inception, social work has not been able to convince the stakeholders, particularly the government, of its credential to be a profession.
American social work professionals strongly believe that social work is a universal profession. In simple words they are of the conviction that what is valid in American society is also valid for other societies. The mainstream American social work theories and practice models have doubtful applicability in Asian countries and in working with indigenous communities. The knowledge base of social work profession in India is questionable. Added to this is the sub-standard quality of social work education, and the poor field work component in most of the social work educational institutions in the country.
Many areas of social welfare, where social work professionals could be employed, are not professionalized or only partly professionalized because of the conception that social work can be undertaken by any person with willingness to help fellow human beings; and persons with education and competence in social sciences, development disciplines or management subjects are capable of substituting social work professionals. In other words, the uniqueness of the knowledge and skills set of professional social work is not felt by those who utilize the services of professional social workers.
Discussion on social work profession in India should exclude HR from its orbit to avoid distortion in the focus of the discussion. Social work in India falls much short of the criteria stipulated by Flexner as well as Greenwood. In India, social work, at best, can be considered a semi-profession as described by Etzioni. Social work as well as social worker are statutorily protected in countries like USA and UK. But it is never possible in India. Social work and professional social work will co-exist with the latter having a lower status.
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