With the approach of World Social Work Day on 19th March my attention has turned to the nature of social work education as a global endeavor. As deputy editor of Social Work Education: The International Journal for the past four years, I have had the privilege to work with academics, educators and researchers all over the world who are grappling with how best to prepare the next generation of social workers. One aspect of this which continually stands out for me is the ways in which a country’s social, cultural, political and economic context alters the shape of the profession and throws up particular challenges for qualifying training. How do we develop a sense of social work education as an international discipline, underpinned by a definition of social work set out by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), when there is a need to also ensure that it prepares students for practice with service users and carers within a particular context?
Every year the journal provides free access to one article in celebration of World Social Work Day. This year, with the IFSW theme of ‘Promoting Social and Economic Equalities’ in mind, we have selected a paper from Africa on The challenges of Social Work Field Training in Lesotho by Professor Pius Tangwe Tanga from the Department of Social Work /Social Development at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa [The free access link can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/r/WorldSocialWorkDay2013]. I asked Professor Tanga to set out some of the struggles that African programmes face in grappling with these issues. In conversation, he shared some of his thoughts with me:
“Although social work in Africa was initially based on Western models introduced by colonialisation, it has subsequently sought to find a way of confronting the particular unjust socio-economic and political relations in African countries. This injustice has given rise to poverty, unemployment, discrimination, violence and other social problems. The precarious socio-economic and political situations of most African countries has meant that social work programmes are faced with a myriad of difficulties including inadequate teaching staff and infrastructure. The field work agencies where our students are placed generally have horrendous working conditions including limited office space, lack of equipment and inadequate finance. There are insufficient numbers of trained social workers to supervise student social workers so many do not receive the professional guidance and education they need in fieldwork placements. But, because of the ever escalating social problems on the continent, some governments have put pressure on training institutions to increase their intakes of social work students regardless of the aforementioned problems and this exacerbates the difficulties.
“Despite these challenges, African social work programmes are resolute in their commitment to preparing their students for practice in the ‘Global Village’. Programmes seek to adhere as far as possible to the IFSW minimum standards set out in the Global Standards for Social Work Education and Training. Students are regularly exposed to transnational and transcultural social work theory and practice within courses which enhance students’ knowledge of global issues, through exchange programmes and by fieldwork placements in other countries, perhaps within large non-governmental organisations in Europe or America. Such attempts to internationalise the curriculum facilitate the transferability and portability of social work qualifications gained in African countries and further the opportunities for our graduates to compete in the ever increasing interdependent world economy and global labour market. It has also been argued that exchange programmes increase the sense of ‘global responsibility’ that students from those other countries hold towards those who are poor and oppressed within developing countries.
“Many practical and ethical challenges are faced, however. Programmes’ aspirations are often compromised by the huge economic and social challenges faced by many African countries. Exchange initiatives need sponsorship, which is very limited in its availability. Social work practice and theory which has a basis in cultural or indigenous practices and social norms may also sometimes end up marginalized, with the result that service users and carers do not always receive a service which is locally responsive and culturally appropriate.
“Given this, the IFSW standards should be seen as ‘aspirational’ rather than necessarily achievable. The conceptualisation of internationalisation should be broadened to address how global issues influence local realities or conditions. By establishing models that blend Western models with indigenous social work models and practices, this will enhance a recognition and acceptance of plurality and diversity within social work education in developing countries.”
So, what implications do these ideas have for the theory and practice of social work education in Western and developed countries? Please share your views!
Greek newspaper To Vima reported late last night of some less than sanguine developments for children’s rights and the welfare of children and their families in Greece.
It has come to light that Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros has requested from the Greek Ministry of Interior (the equivalent of the British Home Office) for the exact data of “foreign infants and young children, by country of origin, who are in nursery schools” in Greece.
To Vima’s headline reads “Taking a leaf out of Herod’s book” and the request follows earlier demands made by the party for the relevant information of immigrants’ use of health services in the country. Both requests appear to follow alarming pre-election statements that “if Golden Dawn are elected to parliament, we will storm hospitals as well as nurseries, and we will throw illegal immigrants and their children on the streets”, and a rise in incidents of violence against immigrants in the country in the last six months.
Under Greek law nurseries ensure the right of access to all children irrespective of nationality, religion or gender and linguistic, racial or social group. This right of access ensures that children’s rights under the UNCRC, of which Greece is a signatory, are preserved.
The latest developments, if enforced by the Ministry of Interior and acquiesced by pan-Hellenic municipalities, would open the doors for the violation of a raft of rights under the UNCRC. As well as a direct violation of children’s rights to privacy, a violation of their rights to non-discrimination, to education, to benefits from social security and to protection from violence would surely follow.
At the same time, if children’s data was connected to that of their families, parents’ and siblings’ rights would also be jeopardize. Should the absurd plan of collecting data on immigrant infants and children be actioned these families, many of which have made Greece their home, would face difficult decisions about whether or not to stay in the country under the threat of explicit discrimination, violence and abuse from the far right. This would make the Greek State solely responsible, in one fowl swoop, for reneging on its duties of care and protection, which are already patchy at the best of times, for its most vulnerable charges.
According to To Vima article, it is reported that some nurseries are already receiving ‘urgent’ requests from the ministry to hand over infant and child data. There are glimmers of hope however, as it is also reported in the same article that pedagogues, in Crete for example, are resisting the ministry’s request arguing unequivocally that they “will not hand over data of infants to neo-Nazis who openly threaten them”.
It was exactly two weeks ago that the Greek Citizen’s Ombudsman (O Synigoros tou Polite) held a one-day event, following its April report to the UNCRC on the state of children’s rights in Greece. The event focused on defending children’s rights in Greece in times of crisis and amongst other things it was noted that immigrant children, children of refugees, Roma children and children of other ethnic minorities were especially vulnerable to further marginalization in the current economic crisis.
Recommendations set out to the UNCRC for the improvement of children’s rights in Greece included a plethora of action points for the general improvement of child welfare and child protection in the country, as well as recognizing the importance of children’s right to privacy. The latter point was made in relation to educating the media of children’s rights to a private life. Perhaps, given yesterday’s reports, the Ombudsman will need to start by educating its own government first.
Dr Sevasti-Melissa Nolas is an academic working at the University of Sussex’s Department of Social Work. Her research focuses on children’s participation rights and youth development, with an emphasis on their implications for social action, social innovation and social justice. She is also a Greek living in London with her husband, and amongst other things, worrying about the developments back home.