Community Classroom

University Scholars Shed Light on the Need to Broaden Social Work Education

University Scholars shed light on the need to broaden social work education
Author: Annette Lucas

VIU professor wants social work education to include more world views and local parenting models.

Dr. Jeanette Schmid, a Professor of Social Work at Vancouver Island University (VIU), wants social work education in Canada to incorporate what different cultures tell people about parenting.  

She hopes her research Pulling Together the Threads, done in partnership with the Centre for Social Development in Africa; Marina Morgenshtern, Trent University; and Yasmin Turton, University of Johannesburg; will start the conversation about harnessing alternative social work models that are responsive to different perspectives and ways of knowing and being.  

“Social workers are often labelled as those people who’ve done harm in the community by imposing their helpful approaches and ignoring people’s traditional ways of solving problems,” says Schmid. “We hope to offer insights on how those inferences have arisen and how we can work towards a social transformation that is meaningful to local populations, wherever you are in the world.”  

Schmid, designated as a white person in South Africa, lived through Apartheid and the movement to end the policies of racial stratification.  

While pursuing her social work degree, she was only taught British and American theories.  

“We were expected to understand social conditions from those perspectives and this one way of understanding child protection,” she says.  

Recognizing that these paradigms were ineffective, she joined with Leila Patel, an eminent South African social worker, and others in the early 1980s to look at how they could effectively address social conditions. 

“It was the first place I heard the language of indigenous approaches ­– as relating to African people across the continent and as local,” says Schmid. 

Patel’s work ultimately resulted in a developmental social welfare policy that is used in South Africa. 

“Through that experience and also having lived in South Africa, Switzerland, the United States and Canada, I came to a greater understanding about effective social work and an appreciation of context and of local knowledge,” says Schmid. “We social workers often think we know better how individuals, families and communities should look after their children or themselves. That creates a power dynamic where we assert our expertise and, in that process, rob the voices and experience of the people we are working with.” 

When Schmid moved to Canada in 1996, she learned about child welfare approaches that tailored to the multitudes of nationalities living in Toronto, as well as Indigenous approaches to child welfare.  

“I saw that the standard child welfare response when difficulties arose was to send people to parenting programs because the assumption was, they do not know how to parent,” says Schmid. “Contextualized social work means understanding what their culture tells them – in this case about parenting.” 

Schmid, Morgenshtern and Turton’s literature review shows that alternative practice models are emerging in social work, but very little has been formally documented or assessed with regard to relevant and appropriate education for future practitioners, which led to the study. 

“Canadian and South African social work educators told us material wasn’t available that can be used to substitute the American and British textbooks,” says Schmid. “To establish contextualized social work education, it’s crucial we begin to curate local knowledge and other ways of knowing and doing and being and make that available to students.” 

She says gains have been made in Canada. Indigenous social work scholars are making their perspectives known, but believes there is significantly more work to be done when it comes to teaching social work in a contextualized way.  

“This means decolonizing the classroom and helping students recognize historical and contemporary oppression and respect for community expertise,” adds Schmid. “Only then will we ensure our future social work practitioners are able to engage in a meaningful, relevant and respectful manner in all contexts.” 


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