Nepals government must recognise social work as a profession



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Social work in Nepal is not a new invention. It can be traced back through many forms of voluntary work by religious and cultural institutions such as guthi (clan-based association), dharmashala (free residences for the poor) and patipauwa (public resting place). Alms giving to the poor and disabled is widely practiced even today, rooted in the concept of daan (charity) in order to please the gods and seek a better life both in the present and in the next life.

But formal social education began in 1996, with the first bachelors degree in social work at Kathmandu University. This was the only bachelor of arts in social work available in the entire country until 2005 when Purbanchal University began a bachelor of social work programme at Kadambari Memorial College and a master’s in social work at St Xavier’s College.

About 50 affiliated colleges of Tribhuwan University are also offering bachelor of arts courses with social work as one of the major subjects, so growth since 2005 has been rapid. In addition, since 1985 the Social Work Institute and Kathmandu Training Centre have been providing training in subjects related to social work, such as social mobilisation, but these are not university standard degrees.

The major problem for social work education and its growth and quality in Nepal is the lack of coherent policy at the University Grants Commission, an umbrella body. The lack of formal recognition for professional social workers by the government is also a major issue.

Graduate social workers cannot compete for many government jobs, as the training is not yet recognised by the Service Commission of Nepal. The lack of an agreed-upon curriculum and its enforcement by a council or similar professional body is a major issue in a transition country like Nepal.

A lack of champions who can go the extra mile to build the profession is also a problem when we look at the need to build an indigenous and internationally relevant Nepalese model of social work. The lack of funding opportunities for institutions that are providing social work shows the apathy of donors in Nepal towards the profession.

Nepal is going through a period of transition and social work can play a crucial role in rebuilding lives and communities that have been affected due to the series of conflicts. The need for a professional social work education is essential for the development of the profession. The underutilisation of social work talent due to low recognition in the country is having an impact on the overall development of the profession. As a result the Nepal School of Social Work is taking innovative steps to address this issue by encouraging graduates to start their own initiatives to bring lasting change in Nepal. The broader aim is to develop a Nepalese model of social work based on both indigenous and international social work values and practices.

What is needed is a systematic plan and the implementation of a larger vision to build the social work profession in Nepal, using education as a building block in this process. We need to gain the state and society’s recognition for our work here in Nepal which provides opportunities for graduate social workers.

There is a need for a robust National Association of Social Workers which could function as a registered union. This union could negotiate with the government to recognise the profession, protect the rights of social workers and ensure accountability.

International organisations like the International Association of Schools of Social Work and regional bodies like the Asian and Pacific Association for Social Work Education should allocate resources for countries like Nepal and use their expertise to boost local initiatives. They should also create mentoring opportunities for social work academics, of whom there are few in Nepal.

The departments and colleges offering social work courses should come together in a network and build alliances with the media, university authorities, government bureaucrats, international donors and other schools of social work globally. Through this they can bring visibility to what they are doing in Nepal. They should have a clear mandate and vision of what they want to achieve and allocate financial and human resources for these objectives. Such thinking and networking among these schools does not currently exist. They should realise that only together can they stand and fight for the profession.

Source: The article was initially published in the guardian and authored by Bala Raju Nikku, visiting social work lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia