To support the fledging development of China’s social work profession, ZeShan Foundation has since 2012 supported the School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University (BNU) to establish a national demonstration program for social work education.
The pioneering four-year program aims to build up the school’s social work teaching, research and advocacy capacity, with the ultimate goal of creating a sustained pipeline of local social work educators in China. Key features include setting up a Master of Social Work program, establishing practicum and distance learning sites across the country, training master trainers in Central and Western China, and publishing case books and textbooks. Read more below:
China’s Long Hiatus in Social Work
Although China can trace its social work profession back to the 1920s, the field suffered a hiatus lasting over half a century. It was only in the mid-1980s that social work was resurrected, to a large extent thanks to concerted efforts by Hong Kong social work professionals and mainland academics. But the development of national social work education infrastructure is still in its nascent stages, and the field faces issues such as a lack of high-calibre research centers with the capacity to influence policy; a severe lack of qualified social work instructors; inadequate research capacity; a lack of a practicum site network; and low recognition of social work as a profession. During China’s recent push to rapidly develop the field, the enormous gap in academic and intellectual leadership has made itself especially apparent.
Beijing Normal University: A National Leader in Education Reform
BNU is China’s top university for teacher training and an innovative trailblazer in higher education reform. As such, BNU has the capacity to play a pivotal role in spearheading the country’s social work education development. The demonstration program is sanctioned by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and authorized by the Ministry of Education, and is part of the national strategy to jumpstart China’s social work education development.
A core part of the demonstration program is setting up a Master of Social Work (MSW) prorgrame which integrates social work, social development, NGO development, and policy advocacy – a first in mainland China.
To facilitate knowledge transfer, BNU has assembled an international team of academics – including many from Hong Kong – to teach alongside their Chinese counterparts, partnering on a one-to-one basis.
Emphasis is also placed on evidence-based teaching and research, so as to ensure the indigenization of knowledge and integration of theory and practice. To this end, BNU will set up an extensive network of 100 practicum sites across the country, publish textbooks on a range of social work topics and an annual case book, and set up a national recognition program for best practices. The ZeShan Case Centre for Social Development was unveiled in 2013, alongside the launch of a ZeShan Scholarship for MSW students.
To leverage more resources, ZeShan encouraged an agreement between BNU and Capacity Building and Assessment Center (CBAC), China’s leading training and assessment organization, whereby CBAC will provide capacity development training and technical assistance to BNU’s establishment of practicum sites.
The demonstration program is not confined to BNU. It also includes setting up regional distance learning sites in partnership with major regional universities, providing intensive training for 700 master trainers to meet the acute needs in Central and Western China, and setting up a fellowship program that will offer up-and-coming social work educators from regional universities to take up teaching or research residency at BNU.
Another unique feature of the demonstration program is its commitment to policy advocacy, so as to provide evidence-based recommendations to the government on such polices as improving the career development of social workers.