Field practicum in social work in UGC model curriculum

In order to coordinate, regulate and maintain standards of university education in India, the UGC was formally established in 1956, as a statutory body of the Government of India through an Act of Parliament ( UGC has prepared a model curriculum for social work discipline to be followed by the institutions offering social work program. It has detailed the theory as well as the practicum to some extent. Some of the components of practicum education specified are discussed below. 

The model curriculum emphasises on nine learning opportunities with specific objectives, to develop and enhance professional practice skills among the learners. These learning opportunities are suggested with a view to help the learner acquire the skills, practice the acquired skills and further master them. Some of the objectives of these practicum opportunities as given by UGC are:  

  • “To develop the ability to observe and analyse social realities,
  • To understand the characteristics of social systems and their dynamics,
  • To develop critical understanding of the application of legislation, legal process, and social policy,
  • To develop the ability to examine the process of program management and participate in the effort at various levels,
  • To develop an understanding of organizational structures, resource management, and day to day administration for human service programs-developmental and welfare,
  • To develop the capacity to integrate knowledge and practice-theory by participating in intervention; and
  • To enhance writing skills to document practice appropriately ”

The objectives for practicum developed by UGC model curriculum reflect the effort to train professionals having the ability to understand the social structure,  social system and its functioning to intervene at the macro level.      

The model curriculum has also provided  for ‘learning opportunities’ through which these objectives would be fulfilled. These are as follows:


 Orientation gives an introduction to the learners about functions and ethics of professional practice and the importance of field practicum in social work education .  Two types of orientation are supposed to be conducted for the students as per the model curriculum –

1. Orientation to social work practice – in which the learners can be briefed about :

  • the importance of field practicum in social work education ;
  • time to be spent in the agency;
  • responsibility of the learner towards the placement agency and the institution;
  • recording of the field practicum and its submission; and 
  • schedule of individual conference, which is suggested as one hour per week,  and group conference, which is suggested once in a fortnight . 

2. Orientation to social work setting/agency of placement : It is to be conducted at the agency or setting where the students are placed for their field work. The learners can be briefed about 

  • the nature of the agency/setting- its objectives, programs , structure etc.
  • contact person in the agency/setting whom the students can contact when needed
  • Agency policies, management, staff and on-going activities
  • Any brochures or reports for getting relevant information about the agency.(UGC, 2001) 

It is also suggested in the model curriculum that “during the first few weeks of placement the students can make a local directory including emergency numbers of hospitals/primary health centres, police, ward of Panchayat  office and other welfare settings and services in the location”(UGC,2001). This learning opportunity does not involve direct intervention but equips the learners for intervention in future through other learning opportunities. The present study found that this opportunity is provided to the students in all the sample institutes .

Agency Visits

Visits to welfare agencies provide the students an understanding of the services provided in response to the people’s need. Some of the objectives laid down for agency visits  by the model curriculum are as follows:

  • Understand society’s response to social problems through various services;
  • Understand, appreciate and develop ability to critically evaluate the initiative of voluntary and government programmes; and
  • Develop an appreciation of social work intervention in these programs by recording the relevant information about the client and the problems, selecting strategies to solve the problems, the relationship between the micro problem and the macro situation and the use of resources and nature of intervention.

It is suggested  by the model curriculum that a minimum of six visits may be made to settings like: “health, educational,  community services, criminal justice systems, civic administration centres, services to special groups like differently abled, destitute, migrants, and elderly, both institutional and non institutional” . The  tasks for faculty in charge of the visits has also been suggested which  include “selecting the agencies, communication to the selected agencies, orienting the students about the nature of the agency and the guidelines for observation and reporting of the visits”. This opportunity would enable the learners to have an understanding of the service delivery process of formal organizations. However in areas, like rural or tribal, where there are few formal agencies, this learning opportunity might be limited to a few agency visits .  This learning opportunity also requires the learners to  make observations for developing understanding of the social problems and the intervention  process  and conceptualize the micro and macro based intervention. It does not provide for direct practice hence this learning opportunity was found to be a part of orientation component of field practicum in all the sample institutes.

Structured Experience Laboratory

The structured experience laboratory provides the opportunity of “learning by doing” in a safe environment of the classroom. As per the document on the model curriculum “these consists of  classroom activities, designed in small groups to encourage participation and sharing of experience. This learning opportunity is conducted through  a game or other simulated exercises”. It helps the learners to enhance their awareness about self and others to make a conscious use of intervention tools.  Some of the objectives laid down by the model curriculum for this opportunity are as follows:

  • Understanding of real situations through experiencing them in a laboratory situation;
  • Reflect over one’s own behaviour, and its effect on self and others;
  • Observe other’s behaviour and with the help of the facilitator, understand the same;
  • Express feelings and appropriate reaction/response to other’s feelings;
  • Confront situations wherein conflicts, decision-making and reflections are necessary; 
  • Enhance self-awareness in relationship to professional role; and
  • Reinforce professional values. 

The competencies and readiness of the facilitator for conducting structured laboratory experiences are also laid down by the model curriculum and it is also suggested that  this opportunity should be designed at the beginning of the year, at the same phase of the visit to various settings and this is not to be evaluated for credits/marks.

This opportunity provides the learners a platform to transform theory into practice before actually intervening in the field. The learners might be more confident if they have been exposed to similar experience beforehand. It would also prepare the students to bring their  professional self to the front while in the field. It is to be noted that the successful achievement of the stated objectives of this learning opportunity will largely depend on the competency and skill of the facilitator   who would be conducting these experiences.

Rural Camp 

Rural camp provides the learners an opportunity to experience rural life, analyse rural dynamics, and observe the functioning of local self-government and voluntary organizations . As per the document on model curriculum the students are divided into groups and this experience gives them the scope to participate in planning for activities for their groups as well as for the local people. It helps the learners to develop the skills to carry out, evaluate and report the experience. Some of the objectives set for rural camp as laid down by UGC are: 

  • Understand the rural social system with special reference to a specific poverty group;
  • Understand the nature of government intervention in relation to poverty groups in the region, and the related structures of decision-making and intervention;
  • Develop the capacity to critically analyse the  voluntary and government interventions in relation to the specific poverty group;
  • Experience group-living and appreciate its values in terms of, self-development, interpersonal relationships, sense of organization, management and taking on responsibility; and
  • Acquire skills in planning, organizing, and implementing the camp, and presenting their experience in a workshop on return from the camp.

As per the document on model curriculum on social work the learners should make observation of a voluntary agency in a rural setting on the following lines:

  • The objectives of the agency;
  • The approach and methods used for achieving the objectives;
  • Organisational structure;
  • Peoples participation in the decision making and program implementation and the problems faced in the process; and
  • Impact on the villagers in terms of their problems, social justice and development.

Study of the community development organizations and Panchayati Raj (local government body) should be focussed upon the following:

  • Administrative set up;  
  • Members of the Zila Parishad and Panchayat and their socio-economic and caste-status;
  • Problems of the administrative personnel working with elected persons at different levels;
  • Decision making process; and
  • Current major programs, budget allocation, methods of implementation, participation of people, impact on development and social justice.

Rural camp gives the learners an experience of rural life and its functioning which might be quite different from the urban life. This opportunity helps the learners to appreciate as well as critically analyse the rural dynamics. An understanding of the rural dynamics, like the administrative set up, social system etc.  becomes important in designing the intervention plan. It also helps the learners to understand the relevance of government policies; and opportunities and lacunae existing in their implementation at the grassroots level. 

It is also expected from the students to make observations of the voluntary organizations functioning in the rural areas. There are many organizations in India working for the uplift of the rural masses. However, the head offices of most of these organizations are situated in urban areas and their projects and services are carried out in the rural areas.  In such cases it might be challenging for the students to get exposed to the objectives, organizational structure or the decision making process of the voluntary organization. Rural camp is also not much significant for students in the institutes located in rural areas. 

The curriculum for practicum  had been based on the American pattern since the inception of social work program in India. It was remedial rehabilitative in nature  preparing students to address micro based problems. It lacked the development perspective hence the profession was unable to address the developmental needs of a third world country like India where the basic needs of the masses are not met  (Nanavatty, 1985; Prasad &Vijaylakshmi,1997; UGC, 1980).  Rural camp finds a place  in social work  curriculum in India since the faculty and most students are from urban or semi urban  areas, unable to address the issues of the main target  population, namely rural masses. The rural camp is intended to fill this missing gap in the curriculum

Study Tour

Study tours which can be urban, rural or tribal provide an experience to study and appreciate innovative efforts by individuals and groups towards meeting the core needs of the people. Some of the objectives of study tours as per the model curriculum (2001) are: 

  • Develop knowledge of organisations that have come up in relation to specific problem situations in the rural and urban areas;
  • Understand the organization’s philosophy, policy, structure, strategies, programs and processes of intervention;
  • Identify the strategies used by local bodies to ensure social justice; and
  • Acquire skills in planning, organizing and  implementing the plans for intervention.

Certain guidelines laid down by for making observations to the agencies visited:

  • History, philosophy, thrust areas, values and principles of the voluntary and government  organisations and their services;
  • The administrative and funding pattern of the organisation;
  • Socio-economic background, needs, problems of the client system;
  • Role of social work in different setting; and
  • Role of other professionals in the service organization.

This opportunity provides the learners to know about social work intervention in areas other than their own . For instance students in rural areas can get exposure to the urban or tribal situation. It would be helpful for learners from rural or tribal areas where there are few formal agencies working in the area of social sector. It would provide exposure  to variety of settings to the learners whose practicum experience would  otherwise be limited to a few settings.  This opportunity might not be very much relevant to students who have to undergo rural camp as the experience might be overlapping. However this learning opportunity also calls for observation of agencies  working in the area of human service. It does not give the chance to the learners to practice in these settings. The learning outcome might  be similar to that of the ‘agency visits’ which is another learning opportunity as per the model curriculum. 

Workshops for skills development

This opportunity help learners acquire specific skills for situations encountered during practice and acquire skills for intervention. These may be for situation when the students have to deal with alcoholic, people living with HIV/AIDS, adolescents, youth, couples with marital discords etc. As per UGC these workshops are conducted with the following objectives:

  •  Enhance and develop specific skills for intervention like counselling skills for developmental situations, preventive or crisis facilitative situations;
  • Develop capacity to design intervention, and participate in the process as part of the team;
  • Develop appreciation of the need to link resources for intervention; and
  • Learners are involved in decision making for this experience and enhance learning through this opportunity.

Suggested skill development workshops are – “population education workshops, working with alcoholics and their families, working with PLHAs, life skills for adolescents, family enrichment program and working with elderly etc.”

Skill development workshop can provide the learners an opportunity for exposure to a specific  client group which they might not get during their concurrent field work. In the present study it was found that it was not a part of the practicum and the students were not evaluated for it. The sample institutes occasionally provided this opportunity to the students. 

Concurrent practice learning 

Concurrent field practice gives the learners an opportunity to develop intervention skills in reality situations. The learners may be placed in agencies or in communities to initiate and participate in direct service delivery. The concurrent field practice should be designed to help the beginning learner to move on to mastering strategies, skills and techniques to practice the profession. The objectives of concurrent field work set by UGC model curriculum  for different levels are as follows:

  • Develop an understanding of the causes of problems; skills to help individuals to solve simple problems; gain knowledge and ability to utilise the available resources; develop skills in simple administrative procedures; and begin to see the relationship between theory and practice and use field-instruction for professional growth;
  • Develop ability to utilize the community resources and services independently and effectively; develop process oriented skills in working with individuals, families, groups and communities; plan and organize tasks independently and evaluate them; and utilize the practice principles, based on professional social work values;
  • Develop ability to analyse agency’s structure, function, management, and identify the gaps in the service delivery; learn to utilize the integrated approach to problem solving; assume leadership in planning, organizing and evaluating different projects; undertake small practice based research; participate in training and undertake supervision of para-professionals and volunteers; critically evaluate the existing community resources and suggest/initiate new services; and develop project proposals and implement these;
  • Develop the knowledge of the socio-income and cultural realities; skills to analyse the wider social systems and their impact on the client system; understand agency as a system; develop ability to involve the client system in the problem solving process; develop skills in documenting; and work as a member of a team; and
  • Develop skills to effectively use the integrated approach to problem-solving and enhance skills of intervention, at the micro and the macro levels; develop skills to organize people to meet their needs and solve their problems, understand the behavioural pattern of the people; develop ability to carry out tasks in relation to service delivery and program management ; utilize  field instructions for enhancing and integrating professional growth; and utilize practice-based research to test effectiveness of specific aspects of intervention. 

Concurrent field work  provides the learner an opportunity  to directly work with the client and practice the theory learnt in the classroom. The students can relate the theory with the situations they confront in the field as it gives them the opportunity to practice along with acquiring theoretical knowledge. The learners  can  practice various methods  and apply the tools and techniques  of social work during their field placement. The objectives set by the model curriculum for each level aims to develop various skills in the learners required for the profession.

Summer Placement 

As per UGC ( 2001) summer placement  provides the learners an opportunity to experience day to day functioning of the setting. The learner gets involved in direct practice with the client system and the ongoing management operations of the setting. The time frame recommended for this experience is about three weeks, after the first year of the post graduate program. The learner may use the same setting for data collection for the research project, if such an arrangement is a part of the plan. The summer placement is set to achieve the following objectives as per UGC:

  • Experience direct practice and management operations.
  • Enhance and integrate practice of social work methods and strategies.
  • Experience self in the role of the  professional social worker.

Summer placement is to be done  at the end of the first year to give exposure to the general social work practice. It  is recommended for post graduate program by UGC  to utilize the long summer vacation in many universities. However there is a need to reconsider terminologies such as ‘summer placement’ since new schools of social work have been set up in some parts of the country such as the North-East, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh etc. which may prefer to have ‘winter placement’ since they may have different time schedule.

Block  Placement

 Block placement  enables the learners to integrate learning and generate newer learning by participating in the intervention process over a period of four to six weeks continuously in a specific agency.  Objectives for this learning opportunity as identified by the UGC are :

  • Develop enhanced practice skills and integrate learning;
  • Develop greater understanding of reality situations through involvement in day to day work;
  • Develop appreciation of others’ efforts and develop sensitivity to gaps in the program; and
  • Enhance awareness of self in the role of a professional social worker.
  • The model curriculum provides summer placement to give  exposure to general social work practice whereas block placement provides exposure to a specialized area of practice.

Leave a Comment