Development of social work Education in India

In developing countries like India qualified professionals have a major role to play in the social welfare and  development sector.

History of social work profession can be traced from the efforts of Victorian reformers to remodel charity work as scientific philanthropy during the later part of nineteenth century. Initiatives taken  by  Octavia Hill through her ‘friendly visits’ remains most outstanding. Some of the values and principles of social work  are also rooted in her ‘Letters to Fellow Workers’ which gave direction to their activities of helping the poor (Kendall, 2000). The Charity Organization Society (COS) was originally created in 1869 in Europe as a response to regularise alms giving and charity by churches and the relief given to the poor by the government under the poor laws.  Training in social work started in 1890, with a one year course consisting of three terms of lectures and courses supplemented by assigned readings, prescribed papers, and practice under  guidance . This is seen as the beginning of professional social work education not only in Britain but world-wide.

Other important  initiatives in social work education were the six week summer course, organised in New York in 1898 by the Charity Organisation Society of USA which was inspired by Mary Richmond. The course was entitled ‘Summer School of Philanthropic Work’ which consisted of lectures, discussions, visits to institutions and agencies and working under the supervision of experienced agency guides. It became a one year program in 1904 and a two year program in 1911. In Europe, the Institute for Social Work Training was founded  in 1899 in Amsterdam, Netherlands and is  recognised as the first school of social work world-wide which laid much importance to the supervised practice . University status was granted to social work training in 1908 when the University of Chicago granted affiliation to the School of Civics and Philanthropy. The Alice Salomon School of Social Work was founded in Germany in 1903. Since these early beginnings, education for social work spread rapidly in the USA , Europe and in other parts of the globe (Ibid).

In India the development of social work took a societal approach –the reform movements- in contrast to the individual approach of the western social work. During the nineteenth century many social reformers took the cause of the social evils like child marriage, sati pratha, untouchability etc. existing in Indian society and advocated for women’s education, widow remarriage and uplift of the lower castes in the Hindu society. We also see the reflection of professional social work in the Rural Reconstruction started by Mahatma Gandhi. The vision behind this movement was to make the rural masses  self reliant and  empowered, and the villages independent in themselves by making use of the resources available within the villages. This method focused on both, the economic aspect as well as the social aspects of the people as these  two needs were supposed to  compliment each other.  

With the industrial revolution in the twentieth century new types of problems emerged when people from the rural areas migrated to urban centres to work in these industries. To cope with the problems of industrial labour force, training programs for voluntary social workers was organised by the Nagpada Neighbourhood House in Bombay. This lead to the establishment of the first school of social work in India in 1936 named ‘Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work’, founded by Clifford Manshardt , an American missionary. It was the first school offering social work training at the post graduate level. This school was later renamed as Tata Institute of Social  Sciences (TISS)  and was recognised as an autonomous institution (Deemed to be University) by Government of India. During  late forties and earlier fifties more social work institutions were established such as Delhi School of Social work, Baroda School of Social Work, Madras School of Social Work, social work departments at Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi, Gujarat  Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad, University of Lucknow etc. Till the year 1978 there were 35 schools of social work in India (second Review of Social Work Education, 1980). More institutions came into existence during the later part of the twentieth century but these were not evenly distributed across the country. Majority of them were located in the urban centres and catering to the needs of the urban population and consequently neglecting the needs of the vast rural mass. 

After social work started as a profession several professional associations and organisations  were formed to provide guidance to the social work professionals and bring them to  a common platform. Prominent among them are National Association of Social Workers (NASW) established in 1955, IFSW established in 1958 and  IASSW established in 1928  at the global level and Association of Schools of Social Work in India (ASSWI) established in early sixties, Psychiatric Association of Professional Social Work and National Association of Professional Social Work in India.  To regulate social work education in India, University Grants Commission (UGC) has set up three review committees. The reports of first and second review committee  were published in the year 1965 and  1980 respectively which elaborates on the existing scenario of social work education in India and have given recommendations and suggestions for curriculum development based on  the changing needs of the Indian society and improvement in the delivery of social work program at various levels.  The ‘curriculum reframe and reform exercise’ was a part of the ‘third national review of social work education’ which published the model curriculum for social work in the year 2001. The history of the profession shows that field practice has been an essential component of social work education and is important for developing professional competence in the students. In fact, training for social work started with a form of apprenticeship by COS, wherein field was the only source of learning with some supervision and guidance. Later it was supplemented with theoretical instructions and took the shape as existing in the present scenario. 

In most of the schools of social work in India, the general pattern of field curriculum followed  is concurrent field work, that is , theory along with field practicum through the duration of the program. In addition there is block field work placement towards the end of the program in some institutions which   enable the student to get experience  and exposure to situations which otherwise are not available during  concurrent field visits. The students are usually placed in agencies for their field practicum though  they are also placed in open communities under the guidance of faculty field supervisors. Thus it is observed in several instances that the student’s learning opportunity revolves around the agency’s area of functioning rather than the educational needs of the student and/or theoretical inputs.  


Social work education in India still has a western influence though the types of problems are different. The curriculum especially the practicum need to be designed as per indigenous context for intervention at grassroot levels.

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