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SOCIAL WORK

A text of a speech delivered by Prof Wiswa Warnapala, Minister of Higher Education at the ceremony held to launch the Master's Degree Programme of the Institute of Social Development on 15th March, 2008 at the BMICH.
Any kind of use of the contents should be duly acknowledged.


Let me begin by thanking the Hon. Minister of Social Services, Mr. Douglas Devananda for giving me an opportunity to get myself associated with the launching of the Master's Degree Programme in Social Work.  Helping the sick and the needy was not unknown to the ancient tradition and even during the time of the Dutch occupation, funds were collected and distributed among the needy.  The Colombo Friend in Need Society came into existence in 1831 and there were private societies and individuals engaged in the task of social work.  Though social work education began in Sri Lanka in the forties through voluntary organizations, it took more than fifty years to establish the National Institute of Social Development. The relevant legislation was passed in 1992, and this Institute, which now functions under the Ministry of Social Services, has been entrusted with the task of awarding post-graduate degrees in Social Development.  This is a non-university institution which has been recognized by the University Grants Commission as a degree awarding institution, and several public sector organizations have been recognized for this purpose; it is an attempt to diversify the tertiary education sector so that the access could be improved to provide more opportunities for persons to obtain a higher educational qualification.  The National Institute of Social Development, as the only institute engaged in the task of providing both undergraduate and post-graduate courses in Social Work and Social Development, conducts diplomas and Bachelor of Social Work courses, and they are conducted primarily for professionals in the field of social work.

It is here in this context that we need to divert our attention to the more pertinent issues of social development.  Social, according to the Fabian intellectual, G.D.H. Cole, is the adjective of 'Society' and the word 'Society' signifies the entire complex of human relations, and they transcend all elements in the life of a community'.  In a country, an individual could achieve certain things through social action and social security, and what the society needs is a set of means which could be employed to seek social good through social institutions. In any society, ancient or modern, there are social institutions engaged in the welfare of the individual, and this   course of study, which, in the end, gives the individual a Master's Degree in Social Work, proposes to study complex social problems, through which effective answers could be found to the social problems afflicting the society.  The essential purpose of a social theory is to tell the people how to be socially good, and aim at social good and avoid social evils.   Yet another important aim is to look for social good through social institutions which, in combination with other institutions in society, could help in the pursuit of social good.  Sri Lanka, since the colonial times, has been experiencing social problems and some of the issues were examined by the Social Service Commission of 1947, which came to be appointed following the impact of the Lord Beveridge Report.  This, in my view, represented a comprehensive programme of social reform, impact of which led to certain important reforms as well.  In the last several decades, the social problems in Sri Lanka, despite the modest efforts by the successive Governments, have become a major problem threatening the very social order itself.  Apart from the enormity of the problem, the complexities of social problem are such that they recur in various forms and thereby threatening the stability in society. Today the country's social problem, due to a variety of reasons, has become a major threat to the social equilibrium which is fundamentally necessary to accelerate the process of economic and social development in a country like that of Sri Lanka. In the last several decades, the country witnessed a series of events, the consequences of which are social injustices, inequities, disasters, conflicts, deterioration of traditional family values, the near-destruction  of the family as a unit, disabilities, violence against children and women, and various forms of discrimination take place; they affect specially such groups as children, women and the disadvantaged.  There is so much of cruelty and harassment of children, women and the elderly as well; this is the newest trend in the country and it explains the nature and magnitude of the problem.  In the recent past, the armed conflict and the natural disasters, similar to that of Tsunami, have created a new set of social problems in the country.  It is true that the successive Governments, on the basis of their ideology, have taken both legislative and administrative action to deal with problems affecting the Sri Lankan society.  If this situation is to be avoided and proper policy perspectives are to be formulated with a view to introducing a comprehensive strategy to tackle the major social problems in the country, Sri Lanka needs a body of knowledge to understand the social problems and to formulate policy in order to resolve the problems.

A body of knowledge on the relevant issues could be built only on the basis of research conducted by a set of committed academics, and this means that the country needs to produce professionally-qualified men, who, in addition to providing strategic leadership to specific projects and programmes, could undertake research in the relevant subjects with an immediate social relevance. It is through research into social institutions that institutional forms in society can be shaped to achieve social good in society.  The Master's Programme in Social Work, which we are inaugurating today, proposes to produce a set of professionally qualified men capable of understanding the problems of the socially disadvantages in society. Social Work, though its scope is limited, is an aspect of sociology, and the selection of the more relevant 'social facts' is an essential part of the sociologist's task whereas the specialist in Social Work is expected to identify and study the social problems in the society. Sociologists are interested in building up a body of knowledge about social behaviour; the centre of attention is in the social behaviour of individuals and the behaviour of social institutions as well.  The term 'social work' refers to a special kind of work which, in fact, means the rendering of social welfare services or conducting programmes that constitute a social welfare system. Through academic training and research, a professional social worker is produced and the professional possesses skills which are used in the amelioration of the problems of the socially disadvantaged people in a given society.   As mentioned earlier, roots of social work of any society go back to ancient religious and humanitarian traditions.  But professionalism in social work began to develop in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the social problems, which occurred as a result of industrialization, provided the impetus for the emergence of a class of professionals in the field.  The positivist social science in the 19th century highlighted the need for rational and scientific study of social problems.  Social Work, as an academic discipline, first developed in the United States, and it became a full time occupation.  By 1950, there were 373 schools of Social Work in different countries, and the term 'social worker' referred to specifically trained for social work but no professional status attached. Such a status could be obtained only on the basis of an academic degree, and the Institute of Social Development, with its Master's Programme, is now in the process of producing a set of professionals in the field of Social Work.

There are certain special features in social work education; it involves some kind of social action, which, according to Max Weber, is determined by a culture which makes people act in specific ways. The knowledge and experience of those with whom one comes in contact includes an element of social action. In my view, social work, professional social work, involves some kind of social action, through which a wide variety of social problems are addressed.  Social work, therefore, involves training in social action; it could be theoretical and practical training.  In all countries, where successful social work institutions have been set up, social work training has been organized around method of social work practice, and the theoretical aspect of the curriculum covers primarily the human behaviour and social life, the manifest aspects of which create various social problems in a given society.  The key areas which need investigation are social welfare policies and the structure of the welfare services; in relation to this Sri Lanka is a rich place as the country has a well developed social welfare system which, the country inherited from the Donoughmore period. In order to get the professional familiarized with the social issues, one must employ the case work method, and it is through this method that an issue could be studied thoroughly, and the required advice could be tendered to families and individuals to solve their own problems.  Therefore, for the purpose of providing professionals in the field of social work, both practical training and academic training are required, and it is on the basis of this consideration that an optimum service could be rendered to the clients whose background, in the given Sri Lankan context vary, and such variations need to be taken into consideration in formulating the course content of the programme and the training programme.  The type of client and the service offered are equally important; it needs to be remembered that the specialists in Social Work are working for the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, the needy and the sick and the poor.  It means that the specialists have to reach the most disadvantaged and the most marginalized groups in society.  Therefore, any social worker, professional or not, needs to identify himself with group workers and community organizations in order to find the most useful method for service, and it is here that the concept of social action becomes relevant.  In other words, the specialist in social work requires a special kind of competence, and it is through this kind of Master's programme that a group of specialists could be produced.

Today several public sector institutions have been entrusted with the task of awarding degrees.  Some institutions are awarding post-graduate degrees such as Master's and Doctoral degrees, and some of the Master's and Doctoral dissertations are of inferior quality and this deficiency needs to be immediately corrected.  Such institutions should encourage quality research.  A doctoral dissertation, on which a Ph.D. is awarded, needs to be of high standard, and it needs to be based on original research. Research, as you know, is search for knowledge; for that matter it is the search for new knowledge, and research could be defined as scientific and systematic search for relevant information on a specific subject.  In the field of Social Development, whatever research the Master's candidates propose to undertake, needs to be an original contribution to the existing body of knowledge which, in the end, could be used to formulate public policy.  It is through rigorous research that solutions could be found to pressing social problems. In such subjects as Social Work, research needs to be conducted on the basis of relevance; one can say that it is social relevance or developmental relevance.  In my view, there is no point in doing research for the sake of research; every bit of research, especially in the field of Social Sciences, needs to be done on the basis of relevance so that the policy makers could use it for the purpose of formulating public policy.  Research in Social Science is important because social scientists could build up social relationships in a society and seek answers to various social problems.  The young men and women, who wish to enter this course of study, should, in the first instance itself, master the research methodology required for your own discipline, and it is very much relevant to sociology which is the study of social organization. It was Augustus Comte who invented the world 'sociology' and he was indeed the father of sociology as a subject of study.  He believed that human problems could be studied by a science of Humanity, which Comte described as sociology. Each science, according to Comte, has its own methods, and in the same way, Social Work, more in the form of social action, has its own method, and social work, as sociology, is the study of man in society.

Concluding my remarks on this subject, I would like to emphasize that efforts should be made to ensure that training programmes and curricula in Social Work reflect local skills requirements.  What is required is to respond rapidly to the changing needs for different skills.  It needs to be mentioned that failure to sustain a strong post-graduate programme limits the development impact of higher education, and it is this which compelled me to canvass for more post-graduate programmes in our Universities.  Post-graduate education, in my view, needs to be expanded on the basis of three important factors.  Firstly, the Universities in the developing countries are the centres of both fundamental and applied research. Secondly, graduates of post-graduate programmes are necessary to staff public research and development (R & D) and this is a programme through which research could be transferred to development units.  Thirdly, post-graduate programmes are important for staff development and for improving the quality of higher education. The intellectual culture in our Universities could be developed only with an expansion of post-graduate education.  In my view, public sector institutions like the National Institute of Social Development should make a contribution to enrich the intellectual enterprise of the country.  All researchers, who are present here today, need to work hard to achieve intellectual heights; Max Weber, when asked to rest after hard intellectual work, had said that - "If I don't work, until one O' clock, I can't be a professor". This statement of Max Weber amply demonstrates the commitment of the intellectual.

undergraduates now come has undergone a radical change since the inception of University education in Sri Lanka.  More significantly, the University, in the last half of a century, has become the natural apex of the educational pyramid and the natural goal towards which a young man of moderate intelligence moves is the University.  This is an aspect of high educational mobility in this country, and this in itself raises a host of problems. It is in this context that SLIATE, as the premier Technological Institute, becomes relevant and important in producing the required talent for the world of business and industry.  It is only on the basis of this strategy that a new direction could be given to the nations life, by which I mean the immediate establishment of linkages between tertiary educational institutions and the labour market in a given country.