Social Work Education and Professional Development
Social work education in Hong Kong began in 1950 when the University of Hong Kong began offering the Diploma in Social Studies (postgraduate program) and the Certificate in Social Studies (post-secondary program). The colonial government set up its Social Welfare Department in 1958 and began providing short-term, in-service training programs for its staff. Subsequently a Social Work Training Advisory Committee and the Social Work Training Fund were set up respectively in 1960 in 1961, the latter became the Social Work Training Institute in 1973.
From the 1980s onward, before the 1997 handover of sovereignty, the British colonial administration embarked on large-scale expansion of tertiary education as an attempt to forestall the public's dwindling confidence in the departing regime. As a result, there followed the setting-up of new universities or the conversion of polytechnic colleges to universities. Some of these also expanded their previous sub-degree programs to become degree programs. Currently, as at 2010, there are six universities and nine post-secondary institutes in Hong Kong offering a wide range of professional social work training programs, ranging from sub-degree to undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
While universities in Hong Kong have their own self-accreditation in academic standards, the post-secondary colleges have to be accredited by the Hong Kong CouncilforAccreditationofAcademicand Vocational Qualifications(HKCAAVQ). However, all social work training programs, including both degree and sub-degree levels, have to be accredited by the Social Workers Registration Board. The board will review and accredit (or otherwise) new and existing programs according to its Principles, Criteria and Standards for Recognizing Qualifications, which is constantly reviewed by the board. Graduates of accredited programs from local (and overseas) training institutes could be eligible for registration and thereby use the title of 'registered social worker' (RSW) and practice in Hong Kong. Holders of overseas social work training qualifications have to provide information to the board for ascertaining whether the curriculum of such education programs meet with the aforesaid Principles, Criteria and Standards.
In an attempt to boost social morale upon the historic political transfer of sovereignty, the inaugural regime had to institute policies that could inject elements
of stability and the long-term development of the Hong Kong economy. It is also primarily based upon the administration's embracing of a pro-productivist social policy (Holliday, 2000), as well as its recognition of the local Chinese community's emphasis on education, which is conceived as useful to social investment and thus the economy (Chui et al., 2010).
Against such a background, there came the ambitious plan of setting a target of 60 per cent of school-leavers having the chance to pursue post-secondary education. However, the strategy adopted by the government was not one of injecting more money into the higher education sector, but instead one of promoting the opening of self-financed programs by universities and colleges. As a result there has also been a mushrooming of professional social work training at various levels, ranging from associate degree programs to undergraduate and even postgraduate ones. With the increased number of providers and programs, or 'education products' available in the 'education market', this aptly reflects the embracing of neoconservative tenets by the administration in adopting privatization and marketization strategies in the provision of public services including higher education (Mok and Tan, 2004; Chui et al., 2010). This situation could also be conceived as a brand of marketization or even 'Macdonaldization' in higher education (Mok, 1999).
With respect to the evolution of a curriculum, before the setting-up of the Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB), all the training institutes had autonomy in curriculum design and self-accreditation. Following the SWRB's establishment, all training programs aimed at enabling their graduates to be eligible for registration with the SWRB had to be accredited by the board. Thus, each curriculum has to comply with the criteria and standards set by the board. Broadly speaking, all programs, ranging from sub-degree to undergraduate as well as some postgraduate programs, tailored for non–social work first degree holders, have to put in place a curriculum that covers policy, research, social science subjects (including sociology, and psychology at least), social work practice, management, law, and most important of all a prescribed length of supervised practicum.
Basically, all these programs have a 'generalist' orientation or adopt a 'generic' approach that provides basic training to students and prepares them to serve a wide range of clients. This has the merit of enabling the graduates to enter a wide range of service fields.
Furthermore, as many of the social services have adopted an integrated approach, frontline practitioners are actually expected to be able to perform the full range of social work practice, including casework, group work, and community work, and render services at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. On the other hand, in view of enabling continuing professional development and specialization, local training institutes also offer quite a wide range of postgraduate programs, ranging from diplomas to master's degrees. For instance, such programs may cover special clienteles or service fields, like mental health, gerontology, family, and children; or specific interventions, like family therapy, counseling, social service management, and the like.
As professional social work has originated from a Western, especially largely Anglo-American cultural background, there is a need to address the issue of
differences betweenWestern and local Chinese cultural structures.As aforementioned, professional social work education commenced in the late 1960s, teaching staff and materials were very much largely 'imported' from Western countries, especially the United Kingdom and the United States. Over the years, local social work educators and trainers have endeavored to achieve indigenization of the curriculum with the awareness that the Western heritage of social work knowledge and practice has to be localized in the Chinese community of Hong Kong.
As revealed from earlier documentation, the awareness of the need for indigenization originated in the mid-1980s, the impetus of which came from the APASWE (Asia Pacific Association of Social Work Education) Conference in Tokyo in 1986. The conference resolved to set up a Working Group on Relationship with China that was to be based in Hong Kong. This served to kickstart efforts in engaging in exchanges and collaboration between Hong Kong and China that reaffirmed the need for indigenizing social work (Chau, 1995). However, some critical observers cautioned about the possible limitations of merely developing local social work literature written in Chinese, and the mere mechanical adoption or translation of concepts and theories found in overseas (mainly English) literature (Kwong, 1996). Kwong (1996) proposed his notion of developing 'local knowledge' and 'indigenous practice' rather than merely transplanting or translating Western theories that are grounded upon Western cultural normative paradigms that are distinct from Chinese ones. This echoes Midgley's (1981) seminal work that called for the attention and critical awareness of the possible incidence of 'professional imperialism' when Western theories and practice models are mechanically adopted and applied in non-Western countries. Lam (1996) took a sceptical stance on the nature of and efforts towards indigenization in Hong Kong, questioning the ambiguous understanding of 'Chineseness' in Hong Kong's culture and social fabric, upon which discourse on indigenization had evolved. Finally, Tsang (1997) reiterated the need for social work practitioners and educators to be self-critical and reflective in their attempts at using Western theories in the local (Hong Kong Chinese) context.
The local academia also engaged in collaborative efforts with the service sector in their exploration of and efforts towards indigenization. These were grounded on an emphasis on evidence-based practice and research-led teaching. In actual practice, local social work educators have actively collaborated with local NGOs in conducting program evaluation in which such programs are guided by and designed with reference to Western theories and concepts. This vividly illustrates the close partnership between training institutes and service providers in evaluating local services and practices, that in turn is channelled into curriculum design and teaching, thus achieving better indigenization.
In another instance, local social work training institutes, motivated by the mission of serving China as well as expanding their scope of activities, have been venturing into providing professional social work training courses or even degree programs on the mainland since the early 1990s. This may also be conceived as a further step towards indigenization that contributes to enabling Hong Kong social work professionals to serve a much larger Chinese community; that of mainland China. Apart from the curriculum and issue of indigenization, there are also concerns about pedagogy. This is particularly evident with the mushrooming of professional social work training programs at various levels offered by the training institutes. With the increasing number of academics and trainers, forming a critical mass and constituting positive competition amongst themselves, there are tremendous efforts made and resources deployed in exploring innovative pedagogy. For instance, there have been successful applications of the problem-based learning (PBL) mode of teaching and learning – which has been adopted in the fields of medicine, architecture, and dentistry – in the teaching of social work practice. There is also the popular utilization of information technology or Web-based teaching. Some even explored international collaborative teaching via the Internet. Furthermore, with the pervasive trend of globalization, there arises the phenomenon of 'homogenization of social policies' (Healy, 2001) in which policies successfully implemented in one country are learned by and adapted in other countries. As a result, local social work training institutes have also ventured into a greater degree of internationalization by engaging in more international collaboration in research and teaching, recruiting overseas academics, and more spectacularly, arranging overseas placements for students. In this latter case, students are exposed to the challenges of multiculturalism and thus enhance their
cultural sensitivity for their future practice.
However, though there is a wide spectrum of pre-service professional training programs offered by educational institutes, as well as the provision of in-service training by the government's Social Work Training Centre and NGOs, there is no formal requirement for continuing professional development (CPD) for practitioners in Hong Kong. This is to be contrasted to both other local professions, like doctors, engineers, and lawyers as well as overseas social work counterparts. In the absence of any requirement regarding CPD in the Social Workers Registration Ordinance the Registration Board, which oversees professional registration, does not have a mandate to enforce CPD as a prerequisite for registration or renewal of registration. In fact, the board has launched surveys and forums to solicit views from the professional social work community about the desirability of introducing a mandatory or voluntary CPD scheme. However, repeatedly, there has been an overwhelming majority indicating resistance to mandatory CPD. This is attributable to various reasons, the most significant of which might be the heavy workload and pressure experienced by the frontline practitioners. In fact, the board's study in 2009 reveals that while social workers objected to having mandatory CPD, most of them had actually been engaged in CPD activities on their own initiative (SWRB, 2010).