The following is the response of the Re-Imagining Social Work Collective to the call for comments and suggestions by the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board on their definition of ‘social work’ and proposed scope of practice.
In a previous blog post I discussed the current review by the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB) of its programme recognition standards. Since the programme recognition standards are what the SWRB use to recognise and (every five years) re-recognise a social work qualifying programme, any changes introduced as a result of the review would, in effect, reform social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand. A consultant has circulated a survey amongst stakeholders to invite comment on the existing standards (SWRB, 2013) including: the graduate profile, the curriculum, requirements for fieldwork placement, admission criteria, modes of delivery, and staffing requirements. In my last post I discussed curriculum content and argued that specifying required curriculum content would hinder rather than help curriculum improvement. Instead, I argued that the focus of our attention ought not to be on curriculum inputs but on clarifying the outcomes of qualifying education. In this post I want to continue with that argument, reflect on the survey questions about the graduate profile, and consider what an effective, outcomes-based social work education might look like.
As a distance educator and someone who has been involved with learning technology for over twenty years I am a great fan of the Canadian educational researcher George Siemens. It was George who, along with Stephen Downes, developed the first Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC). However, the original MOOC designed by Siemens and Downes could not be less like the content driven MOOCs offered by the plethora of institutions who now occupy that space, theirs was founded on a connectivist pedagogy driven by the activity of learners and the networks they form, not by a pre-determined content driven structure.
In 2001 Amy Rossiter asked the critical question: ‘do we educate for or against social work‘. She wrote about being
exhausted and beleaguered by a lifetime of being positioned as a “professional helper” by a state that organizes the people’s problems as individual pathologies that are best administered by professionals who are trained not to notice the state. (p.1, emphasis added)
I suspect many social work educators feel the same. And in Aotearoa New Zealand we are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of the welfare state, and ‘not notice’ poverty, homelessness, health inequalities and the institutional racism which pervades Māori experience of state institutions. We are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of political commentary and debates in news media saturated by sport and inane clickbait sensationalism. In this culture it becomes more vital for social work educators to teach students to notice, and to question (Beddoe & Keddell, 2016), and to resist the encroachment of politicians into social work education.