The school is the best place to inculcate in children the ideals and values of social work. Apart from infusing dignity, it helps cultivate a humane trait – that of being able to contribute to the collective responsibilities of society.
The International Federation of Social Workers contends that “social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals…its values are based on respect for the equality, worth and dignity of all people”. The words charity and volunteer best describe social work activities.
Social work addresses the multiple complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives and prevent societal dysfunction. Over time, it has become a discipline, giving rise to specialised institutions that train would be social workers. Professional social workers focus on problem-solving and change and are seen as ‘change agents’ in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve.
The missing link(s)
Though these are the ideals, some individuals argue that some programmes fail to achieve targets in spite of expert interventions. Their contention – “Nothing is wrong with the system or in the groups/individuals planning or organising social work programmes. The lacuna lies in the lack of preparedness and responsibility or commitment of a participating individual”. It is therefore essential to inculcate these qualities in the early stages of life’s learning curve.
Social work is not only about participation, but also about doing work the way it should be done. Perhaps there is some truth in what they say – since an individual is supposedly the primary participant – ‘accountability’ to any programme matters. Here, an individual’s ‘experience’ will determine the success or failure of any programme and as such, experience becomes an asset to the community. However, in many cases, individuals participating as volunteers often do not have any experience; though volunteering itself is a ‘noble’ indulgence! Imagine a hundred inexperienced volunteers gathering to do social work. And imagine just one among them, who happens to have some experience, doing the actual work while the rest look on not knowing what to do and how to coordinate. The programme would indeed be a disaster.
Bridging the gap
Though any social arena would do to introduce and inculcate the positive aspects of social work, the school is perhaps the best. Here, in the classroom environment, it is likely that there will be a somewhat varying distribution of some basic social priorities. Being able to tailor lessons to each student means the teacher meets the needs of each student naturally and still honours the diversity present with less distraction and more connection.
Though challenging, this makes knowing the students’ social priorities a very valuable asset. The result of this effort is always rewarding to both the educator and the student. Educators can tap this diversity to help individual students accommodate and help each other. They can also use students’ social priorities to connect children’s interests and subjects studied.
As for students, what do they learn? Tinyi, a research scholar from the University of Hyderabad, vividly remembers his schooling in Nagaland: “Those were the days when we had social work every alternate Saturday…apart from ‘dignity of labour’ it infused in me a humane trait, of being able to contribute to the collective responsibilities of our society. I believe the intricate needs and functions of social work have shaped a part of my personality. Whatever I have learnt about leadership, preparedness and team spirit has proved rewarding and relevant to this day.” Gaining experience early in life thus makes things easier for any collective concern that may arise.
Societies have been, and are capable of organizing themselves to meet their collective needs. Societal relations and experiences across human history have proved this fact. And since social work can have an impact on an individual’s life, reliving memories like Tinyi’s would not be a bad idea after all.
Temjenwabang is a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad.