By Gita Bhattarai
Learning beyond the classroom
Social work education is gaining popularity among students as a unique academic program within social science. What fascinates me about this program is its focus on field education and experiential from fieldwork activities. What is fascinating is that the program inculcates a unique value orientation that aims at making students responsible social citizens. Unlike other social sciences programs which are primarily theoretical in nature, this discipline has a very practical and problem-solving orientation. Students get ample opportunities of learning beyond the classroom throughout their course period whereby they observe and analyze various social issues in the community.
According to the Tribhuvan University social work curriculum, a total of 250 credit hours of internship is provisioned for the three-year social work program at the undergraduate level. Even first-year students work for two days every week with NGOs/INGOs or other community-based organizations as part of their practical assignments.
In fact, the major attraction of this program to students is an extended residential community visit to learn about various community activities by staying in the community and participating int eh everyday social life. Such field camp is really an interesting event for me to lead as it enthuses my students for learning based on practical experience int the real world. Undergraduate students become very excited to be out in the field to learn something new. Riya Tamang, a second year BSW student remarked: “The recent camp will remain as one of the unforgettable moments of my student life as it was learning with loads of fun.”
What is Social Work Camp?
Social work camps intend to make students better understand community life, people’s needs and problems. It prepares students to formulate a plan of action for resolving community issues. Moreover, such camps also encourage students to develop a sense of empathy and accept community life with great respect.
Providing an unprecedented opportunity for students to understand rural social problems and the interventions adopted to resolve the same, such camps also help to figure out the impact of social and cultural norms and institutional practices on the lifestyle of the local people.
In March 2019, I took a group of BSW second year students to a residential field trip through the districts of Illam and Jhapa and even went to Darjeeling for some refreshment. Travelling through the lushgreen tea gardens was an amazing experience difficult to describe in words. In such a pleasant environment, students got a rare opportunity, not only to observe the lifestyle of the local communities, but also learn important life skills. It gave me immense pleasure to see transformation among some students after they thoroughly enjoy all the camp activities. The attitudinal and behavioral change characterized by perseverance, empathy and integrity demonstrated by students after such visits are highly encouraging for us at NIMS College family.
Having said that, I also experienced some challenges in leading the camp. It was challenging to acclimatize students in rural setting. Particularly those students who have never been to village have problems in adjusting to the village with regard to lodging and fooding, though their learning spirit is high. Our student cohort is primarily urban – so much so that there are students enrolled in BSW who can’t distinguish between a paddy and a wheat field.
Convincing parents also become handy at times. During my journey as a BSW coordinator, I have come across some parents who are more anxious and reluctant to send their children to long field visits such as NIMS College camps. However, with proper counseling and orientation about BSW, this problem was resolved, and all parents were happy to allow their children studying with us to participate in the camp.
Well-planned learning activities
We made a detailed plan before embarking on the visit. Students developed questionnaire and checklist for focused group discussion for all the community groups we planned visit. We provide them with a range of thematic areas to work on – health, education, transport, drinking water – for students to choose for the detailed study. Upon finalizing the themes, various sub-groups were created. Each sub-group carefully observed and analyzed issues of interest and shared findings in the wider group. All these preparatory activities became useful for students to tap pertinent data and information from the actual field visit. Students also got an opportunity to hone their research and report writing skills.
Reflections and internalisation of new lessons
I have a strong conviction that the reflection sessions that we arranged at the end of the day in camps in which students express their inner feelings and also share their learnings are very useful. Students reflect on questions like: how they felt being a part of an extremely new community’? What similarities and differences did they notice between their own life and the community life? What lessons can they draw for their own life after the visit?
Hence, I would like to reiterate that social work held work is altogether a different learning experience. Blending the theoretical learning in classroom with the first hand practical observation of social phenomena helps in developing a strong civic sense and capability to lead, and run social enterprises, ad well as engage in advocacy and lobbying in the field of child rights, human rights, and gender equality.
(Ms Bhattarai is the Social Work Coordinator at NIMS College)