Social Work as a subject in the University first started in 1952, when it offered the first professional social work qualification in Singapore, the two-year Diploma in Social Studies. Since then, it has evolved with the changing times, circumstances and requirements of the country into its present form.

The objective of Social Work education at the undergraduate level is to provide basic professional training to equip its graduates for entry into the profession at the direct service level. Continued emphasis is therefore placed on the development of direct service expertise. However, many new graduates are employed to pioneer professional social work in new settings where employers look to them to plan and implement innovative programmes. It has been necessary to take these factors into consideration in planning the Social Work curriculum.

Over the past few years, social work graduates have had increasing demands made on them for skills in such areas as social work research and programme evaluation, management, staff development and social entrepreneurship. The employing organizations are computerizing administrative and programmatic procedures and are offering opportunities for the upgrading of professional practice through the use of ICT (information and communication technology). Student learning in these areas has been greatly enhanced by the setting up of a small research and management skills facility within the department, wherein staff and students can work together on computer-related aspects of coursework.

Students are exposed to social service visits, skills training, fieldwork placements and module projects, among other applied learning methods. The fieldwork placements are organized on a flexible basis. A wide variety of placements providing the necessary field-learning experience for these students is made available. Students also learn to document and present projects in which they are involved.

Fieldwork is an integral aspect of social work education, as it attempts to provide students with the opportunity to integrate theories with practice, through the guidance of a qualified field supervisor. The following are the aims of field placement:

Provide opportunities for the integration of theory into practice through:

  • Observation and understanding of the interaction between human behaviour through life span and the surrounding systems
  • Development of self awareness about one's attributes, values, sensitivities and ethical requirements of social work profession, through experience
  • Learning and practice of social work methods, techniques and skills for prevention and amelioration of social problems, at micro, meso and macro levels
  • Development of a commitment to the mission, values and ethics of social work practice

Social Work is a dynamic discipline as it constantly evolves to make itself relevant and responsive to the changing times. In the local context, changes have been made to the academic pursuit of Social Work in the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Specifically, changes in the NUS modular system in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) allow students to choose to do either (1) a single major in one subject or (2) a single major in one subject with a minor in another. The Department of Social Work offers a Social Work major and a Human Services minor. Students who do a single major in Social Work would graduate as a social worker, whereas those who choose the Human Services minor would not qualify as a social worker. We have also recently re-instituted two compulsory field practice modules in the undergraduate curriculum.

This implies that students who enrolled with NUS from academic year 07/08 would have to take two 400-hours field placements during vacation time (May-July) after completing year 1 and year 2. As such, this field practice would consist of 2 cohorts of social work students. The first group of students would be embarking on the first placement after year 1 before going for second placement the following year. The other group of students would be doing their second placement after year 2, as they have completed their first placement the year before. Generally, it is recommended that students do their first placement after year 1. However, there are some students who prefer to do their first placement after Year 2, and this implies that they would have to take a Special Semester after Year 3 to complete their second placement before graduation. (Please refer to Appendix A: Field Placement Calendar).

During the placement period, students will also be required to participate in fieldwork seminars at the University, which will count towards the placement hours. Some male students might also have to fulfill their National Service obligations for part of the placement period, during which their placement would have to be deferred for that period. The affected students would then resume their placement and complete the balance of the hours/weeks required.

To better prepare students for field placements, students are required to complete and pass the pre-requisites modules consisting of the following before going for/continuing with their field placement:

First Placement (SW3103A) Second Placement (SW3104)
SW1101E Social Work: A Heart-Head-Hand Connection
SW2101 Working with Individuals and Families
SW2104 Human Development Over the Lifespan
SW2105 Values & Skills for Helping Relationships
SW3103A Social Work Field Practice I

Based on the aims of field placement, it is hoped that students would develop their competencies in the following areas:

  • Knowledge
  • Practice Skills
  • Values, Attitudes & Professional Development
  • Use of Supervision & Guidance

The expected competencies to be developed by the students for first and second placement are listed below:

Areas Competencies First Placement Second Placement
Knowledge Understanding of the philosophy, purposes and functions of the agency
Understanding of the service users
Knowledge of agency and community resources
Integration of classroom and fieldwork learning
Practice Skills Information collection
Assessment & planning
Implementation & coordination
Relationship & communications skills
Executive skills
Written & recording skills
Termination & evaluation
Research skills
Case Presentation skills
Values, Belief in the worth & dignity of clients
Attitudes Social consciousness
& Professional Sense of professional identity
Development Capacity for self-reflection
Working relationships
Service accountability
Use of Ability to identify own learning goals
Supervision Preparation for supervision
& Guidance Attitudes towards guidance and advice
Capacity for independent thinking

It is hoped that both the classroom and field placement practice will provide a context for students to integrate theories with practice. As such, the seminar sessions during fieldwork placement and supervisory sessions aimed to facilitate the discussion of social work values, ethics and practice.

The Department of Social Work provides support to enhance students' learning in the field through (i) Field Practice Seminars and (ii) Mid-Placement Visits (where required).

Field Practice Seminars

The integration of theory and practice in social work education is further promoted for the students, through regularly scheduled field practice seminars at the Department. The seminars are held throughout the placement period.

There are two main objectives behind the idea of the "practice" seminars. They act as a channel to provide knowledge and theories appropriate to field practice. They also serve "as a laboratory in which students and teachers can examine both the curriculum and practice demands in terms of their interrelationship, mutuality, coherence, and relevance".

Usually staff members and field practitioners act as a facilitator at the seminars. Students are divided into small seminar groups. Field Supervisors with students during the placement period when the seminars are held are welcomed to attend the seminars.

The seminar topics are usually selected on the basis of their relationship to the classroom learning the students have had and the types of placement settings being utilised. Information about the seminar schedules and topics are made available to Field Teachers and students before the commencement of each placement period.

Mid-Placement Visits

Students are required to fill up the Mid-Placement Feedback Form (Please see Appendix B: Mid-Placement Feedback Form), jointly signed by the Field Supervisors not later than one week after the mid-point of field placement. In the event that a student is facing major problems which require attention and a mid-lacement visit is required, this could be indicated in the form.

The purposes of the mid-placement visit are as follows:

(i) Sharing of knowledge of student's state of progress

The Field Supervisor provides the staff-visitor with a knowledge of the state of progress of the student in his placement. This feed-back will enable the Department to evaluate firstly, the impact of classroom teaching on the student and secondly, the ability of the student to integrate theory and practice. It is important for both the Department and the field to coordinate the learning in the classroom and in the field in order to provide the necessary environment for the student to progress in the placement.

(ii) Sharing of knowledge of student's pace of progress

It is also useful for the Department to understand the pace at which the student's progress is developing within the placement. Effective learning assumes that there is a progressive movement in the student's ability to acquire the basic knowledge and skills of effective social work practice. This movement or pace of progress also serves as an indicator for the Field Teacher and the Department of how the student is faring.

(iii) Resolving learning difficulties

The Department, in consultation with the Field Teacher, will consider the overall progress of the student so far. Where there are areas of concern adjustment can then be worked out (usually through tripartite consultation with student, Field Supervisor and staff member) to overcome some of the learning difficulties.

The Fieldwork Placement is designed in a manner that allows students to experience variety in their fieldwork practice, in different settings, and have the opportunities to integrate theories with practice. Placements are classified according to the setting and nature of work, such as:

1. Agencies for Children & Youth
2. Agencies for Older persons
3. Agencies for the Disabled
4. Correctional Settings*
5. Medical / Health Settings*
6. Family Service Centres
7. Community Development Councils (CDC) / Residents' Committees (RC)*
8. Ministry of Social and Family Development, National Council of Social Service*
9. Other Settings

* These settings are only for second placement students

William, J. K. "The Practice Seminar in Social Work Education", in Council on Social Work Education. The Dynamics of Field Instruction: Learning Through Doing. New York, 1975, p. 95.

Where serious learning difficulties arise, the Field Teacher will usually get in touch with the student's tutor as soon as possible. If necessary, an earlier visit than originally planned can be arranged

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