Field practicum in social work education

Social work practicum or field work may be described as the practical use of classroom learning. It is an integral part of social work discipline at the undergraduate and post graduate levels. Along with a strong theoretical base the students need to have practical field experience of what they are learning in theory. It is only by practice that the students can comprehend the technicalities of working with the clients. Social work practicum helps the students to deal with administrative, legal and communication issues. Practicum gives an opportunity to work with supervision, intake, and case recording and reporting. A variety of settings provide the field work experience for the students to see how the knowledge they have gained in the classroom actually works. Students usually get to practice several of the methods in social work. They get a chance to work with individuals, groups, communities and get some awareness of social administration, social policy and social action. Along with the knowledge, the students need to be aware of the skills, values and ethical guidelines that are required for practice of social work. The requirement  of the social work  profession is to deal directly with the people  in difficulty. It has been proved over the century that this profession stands unique in that  it can enter into the pains of the people especially poorest of the poor. Through its evidence based practice it has been  proved that it is a strength based practice throughout the globe (Thomas, 2013). To help the people in distress an action oriented approach is needed. For this action oriented approach there is a need to have working knowledge and practical understanding of the profession. A fruitful social work practicum would be the final shaping of the student in becoming a professional social worker.

In the classroom, the student focus on theoretical concepts useful for the practice of the profession and it is by practice in the field they can compare the theory with real life situation and test the  applicability of these theoretical concepts. Field practice is aimed at training students for practice as professionals and so it involves not mere knowledge, but skill in the use of knowledge. The emphasis is on skill in the practice and not on knowledge of practice.     

Objectives of field work

Keeping in view the general purpose of field practicum, Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), USA have formulated certain objectives of field work in its Curriculum Policy Statement 1969, which are as follows:

  • “to enhance student learning within all areas of curriculum;
  • to provide students with opportunities for development, integration and reinforcement of competence through performance in actual service situations;
  • to permit students to acquire and test skills relevant to emerging conditions of social work practice;
  • to foster the integration and reinforcement of knowledge, value and skill learning acquired in the field and through particular courses and concentration; and
  • to provide students with opportunity to delineate and comprehend questions for research which arise in the course of practice.” (CSWE, Curriculum Policy statement,  as cited in D’Souza, 1978).

In India no  specific body of the social work professionals exist till date to regulate social work education or set minimum standards for practice; therefore universities and institutes offering social work program  are expected to follow the guidelines given by the UGC and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) . In fact several social work institutions adopt the existing models without examining their suitability to that particular region. The report of the Second Review Committee of Social Work Education in India has laid down certain objectives of field work practicum which are as follows:

  • Develop professional skills through learning how to utilize the knowledge (related to the particular level of training) for the study of the relevant facts, the analysis of problem, and selection of the appropriate means for problem solving;
  • The development of skills for problem solving in work at the micro level (individual, family, small group, community), and change at the macro level in social institutions and processes (the type of skill will vary with the level of training);
  • Provide concurrent opportunity for the integration of class-room learning in field practice and vice versa(feedback mechanism for both class and field);
  • Develop skills required for professional practice at the particular level of training;
  • Develop professional attitudes involving impartiality, non-judgemental  attitudes and objectivity;
  • Develop professional values and commitments such as respect for human dignity and worth and the right to participation and self-determination compatible with the good of the society;
  • Develop awareness of self and the ways in which psychological and cultural factors affect the perceptions of and responses to others; and
  • Develop the professional ideal. (Second Review of Social Work Education, 1985)

Keeping in view the various objectives of field work practicum as mentioned above, many  schools of social work give chance to students of social work  to exercise  classroom theory into the field practice. The professional education depends upon the applicability of its skills, methods and strategies in the field. Field practicum provides an opportunity to the student to carry out social welfare tasks and gain understanding about the existing patterns of welfare organization. The student develops capacities and abilities to work with individuals, groups   and communities under the supervision of either the faculty supervisor and/or agency supervisor and in some cases both. Through  first hand observation and  participation , the learner initiates and carries on the tasks in the area of welfare, social action, social change and social development. 

As social work is a practice based profession and field practicum being an important aspect of social work education, there exists some problems in imparting field education. 

Challenges in field practicum

The students are placed in agencies or  organisations working for the welfare of the society. A good field experience depends upon the practice of social work profession by these organizations which can be used as a model for learning. Such agencies might not always be available or accessible  and this might limit the fulfilment of the practicum goals.

Another fact is that when students are placed for concurrent field work they are supposed to relate theory with practice. They are taught methods of social work and skills and techniques of dealing with human problems. In the agencies, sometimes the students might come across certain complex  problems which one might not have expected and may not be in line of what they studied in theory,  but they have to deal with it as they have to provide service to the client. Thus the service goals of the agency becomes more important than the educational goals of the students.

Some of the problems specific to Indian situation are the dearth  of welfare agencies which can serve as placement centres for field learning. Even if there are , most of them are situated in big cities. They are rarely found in smaller towns as a consequence the students are placed in organizations which might not be appropriate to their field learning goals. Thus the students might not get a chance to develop their skills to their full potential. Another challenge is the lack of competent field instructor to guide the students for their field practice. Lack of indigenous literature also leads to challenging situation as educators and students depend on foreign concepts developed and tested in a foreign culture and which might not be applicable or suitable to the Indian culture. There also lies a problem in the lack of understanding on  the part of the organizations regarding the field practicum goals. They perceive the students as either a helping hand in their day to day service delivery or merely observers of their functioning. Here lies the responsibility of the schools of social work to provide orientation to the agencies regarding the practicum goals.    

Apart  from these challenges there also exist some opportunities for field practice in the Indian situation in the form of open communities.  Where there is lack of agencies, schools of social work can directly work in the human service  sector without depending on the welfare agencies. 


An important aspect of field practicum is the field supervision. The field work is expected to be carried on by the students under the guidance of a field instructor or supervisor. The learning of the students largely depends on the effectiveness of  supervision he or she  receives. 

Leave a Comment