More than 200 million Chinese workers migrated from rural plantations to urban labor markets between 2000 and 2010, and the surge in economic growth has resulted in hardships for millions of people in the country.
The Chinese government is depending on the social work profession to address these increasing social challenges by bolstering the country’s number of social workers from 200,000 to between 2 million and 3 million by 2020.
Many U.S. schools of social work, through their global education efforts, are collaborating with Chinese leaders and educators to strengthen the country’s social work education and practice capacity. At the same time, U.S. educators say the shared opportunity allows new insight into improving social work efforts in the U.S.
Silver School of Social Work
One example is the Silver School of Social Work at New York University in New York City.
Lynn Videka, dean of the Silver School of Social Work, said NYU hosts major initiatives to transform the university into a global network.
One of its latest projects is partnering with the School of Social Development at East China Normal University to create an institute that will train and study social science and social work research that supports social policy, practice and prominent academic programs that are locally and globally relevant.
An essential mission of the institute is to address the poverty and inequality issues experienced in China and the U.S.
“I am taking the approach of building programs that have a strong core rooted in the global network university infrastructure of New York University,” Videka said.
“Individual faculty research projects and initiatives can be the ‘flowers’ on the branches that emanate from the strong program roots,” she said, noting that NYU is in the process of building a portal campus in Shanghai.
Videka said social work students with an interest in international social work do not particularly need to leave the U.S. to be part of a group that helps other cultures.
With student field placements, NYU works with the United Nations and other international organizations in the area to promote social work involvement with diverse cultures in the U.S., she said.
University of Pennsylvania
Another U.S.-China collaboration is taking place at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice, or SP2.
According to the school, global inquiry, academic partnerships, collaborative research endeavors and international immersion opportunities for students is SP2’s way of educating future leaders of social change and addressing complex social problems around the world.
Something new taking place at the school is a partnership with Peking University in Beijing to build an interdisciplinary educational effort between the two schools. The collaboration fits with furthering SP2’s Global Initiatives Strategy.
“It’s important we prepare our students to live and work in a global society and promote global awareness,” said Mary Mazzola, associate dean of enrollment management and global outreach at SP2. “We want our students, who are future leaders of social change, to learn how to impact change in various cultural and social contexts.”
Mazzola said one of the challenges facing social work education in China is the lack of an interdisciplinary focus on health and mental health social work. For example, she said China has few social workers working in hospital settings.
SP2 teamed up with faculty at Peking University as well as several universities in Hong Kong to host the China-U.S. Health and Mental Health Social Work Conference last November. Penn faculty members participated in the event, representing experts in the fields of social work, bioethics, psychiatry, internal medicine and health economics.
“We had some of our graduates who are hospital social workers present on medical social work in the U.S.,” Mazzola said. “It was pretty comprehensive.”
Mazzola said the meeting was a successful inaugural step toward building the Penn-Peking university partnership.
The conference promoted the knowledge exchange among practitioners, faculty, and researchers on practicing social work in health and mental health care settings in mainland China, Hong Kong and the U.S.
From this collaboration, Mazzola said SP2 plans to host future collaborations to teach and train social work educators and practitioners using an interdisciplinary approach.
She said the effort is true partnership for both schools to exchange ideas and build their knowledge base. “It’s a two-way street because we all learn from each other,” Mazzola said.
“It’s important to promote social work education in other countries,” she added. “Globalization has altered the landscape of the world. There are global complex social problems. If we promote social work education, we can work together to solve the complex problems of the world.”
Seven schools of social work are participating in the China-U.S. Collaborative on Master of Social Work Education that is sponsored by the Council on Social Work Education’s Katherine A. Kendall Institute, the China Association of Social Work Education and the International Association of Schools of Social Work. The effort aims to foster the development of graduate social work education programs in mainland China.
One of the U.S. participants is the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California.
Suh Chen Hsiao, a clinical assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, and Dan Hester, director of international programs at the school, are excited about the program that is pairing the seven U.S. schools of social work or social service with seven similar schools in China. USC is collaborating with Nanjing University School of Social Behavioral Science Center, MSW Center.
The 14 schools held a conference in December 2012 in Beijing and Nanjing, where educators from both countries exchanged goals and drafted plans on future collaboration efforts over the next five years.
Suh Chen Hsiao said USC has already invited a faculty member from Nanjing to be a visiting scholar, and a Nanjing doctoral student will visit for the fall semester. Presentation ideas for future conferences are being planned as well.
Hester said the Chinese government, through its Ministries of Civil Affairs and Education, has made a commitment to resources to grow social work in China.
“They recognize the importance of strengthening social work education at the master’s level,” Hester said.
“To share our experiences not only benefits us, but it also benefits our own students and faculty,” he added. “There is much to learn from other nations.”
The other U.S. schools involved in China-U.S. MSW collaborative are the University of Houston, Arizona State University, New York’s Fordham University, the University of Alabama, the University of Chicago, and Case Western Reserve in Ohio.
Education in the Philippines
Schools of social work have a rich history of helping other countries develop and expand their social work education efforts.
One school recently celebrated the end of a successful social work master’s level education partnership in the Philippines.
The Catholic University of America’s National Catholic School of Social Service partnered with three Filipino universities and two nongovernmental organizations to conduct a Master of Teaching in Social Work program in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, Philippines.
Frederick Ahearn is a professor and co-chairman of the NCSSS Center for International Development. He said the program placed attention on teaching social development as a means of helping the more than 1 million displaced residents in the area due to the 40-plus year of conflict between the Muslim majority and the government.
NCSSS faculty volunteered their vacation time to travel to the Philippines to teach 10 courses to each class of students over six years. The program completed its memorandum of understanding in 2012 and celebrated by having 100 students graduate from the program.
These students typically already worked for a nongovernmental organization or a government agency and they had to agree to continue to work in conflicted areas for two years upon graduation, Ahearn said.
The students gained skills in social planning, peacemaking and conflict resolution and management of social work programs as well as skills in obtaining grants and evaluating programs.
Ahearn said the NCSSS Master in Social Work Education effort was similar to a program that took place earlier in Chile.
Like other universities that promote global education and understanding, NCSSS offers students who are eager to partner with international agencies an opportunity to create social work experiences in not only the Philippines but also in other countries through its International Program of Associates.
Ahearn said promoting social work education in other countries is important because the experience allows the opportunity for students to understand a country’s differences and similarities.
“As social workers, we have the value of helping others,” he said. “That may be here or in Nicaragua, Kenya or the Philippines.”
Social Work in Armenia
A former republic of the Soviet Union, Armenia is an emerging democracy that has benefited from schools of social work in the U.S.
Nancy Humphreys, a former NASW president, is a professor of policy practice and director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. She is especially proud of the school’s extended history in helping promote social work education in Armenia, a country that suffered through great political and environmental challenges after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
An American social worker, a son of refugees who fled the Armenian genocide, contacted the University of Connecticut School of Social Work to propose a joint effort with the Yerevan State University to develop a western style of social work in the country. From this effort, YSU faculty developed social work education and training programs to help people help others caught in the dramatic transition that followed independence, Humphreys said.
UConn students continue to spend their spring breaks working in Armenia on projects that support social work development in the country.
“We have a lot to offer and we have a lot to learn,” Humphreys said of social work education efforts in other countries. “I have learned so much from other cultures. It’s important to note that young (social work students) are very eager to enter our program. They want an international experience as much as possible. They have a willingness to sacrifice home and comfort to do this. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”