Information Services Office   4.9.2012


Prof. Lam Ching-man
Lo Ng Mei-kuen Eva
Growth camp
Charity activity
Field service
Newsletter No. 402 > Feature > A Professional Trailblazer

A Professional Trailblazer


Anatomy of an Academic Programme

The transmission of knowledge, the stimulation of thought, the promotion of research, and the creation of new knowledge are the core missions of universities as seats of higher learning. And, of all these mandates, the transmission of knowledge ranks as the most important, and the academic programme is its vehicle.

The Chinese University established the first social work programme in 1964, 30 years before the Hong Kong government passed the relevant legislation to govern the social work profession (1997) and set up the Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB, 1998).

Prof. Lam Ching-man, chairman of the Undergraduate Programme and Curriculum Committee of the Department of Social Work, said the content of the programme with a history of over 40 years has been evolving in line with rapid social developments. ‘For instance, when we talked about drug treatment, we referred to heroine; now it’s soft drugs. Over the years, we’ve conducted reviews, and made adjustments and renewals, especially with courses linked to social policy. Different organizations have launched a plethora of services and service models, and we have to ensure our graduates are in the know. Simply put, we have a stable framework with flexible content.’

The social work programme emphasizes generic training. Basic concepts are introduced in the first year, and in the following year, practical elements are added in. There are seminars in the final year, aimed at consolidating the local experience, broadening vision, and extending the practical aspect. The programme is evaluated once every six years by the SWRB. Passing the evaluation means students become registered social workers upon graduation.

When the world is increasingly globalized, teaching must take into account the international perspective, in addition to the regional and the local. For example, youth unemployment has long existed in North America, hence one could learn from their experience. As the problem becomes internationalized, the discussion cannot solely focus on how to help Hong Kong’s youth find jobs. Rather, one has to analyse the problem’s ties to the economy, society, and learn from foreign experiences. One has to go to the root of problems to find solutions of any permanence. The programme’s clear and orderly structure has meant it has done consistently well on CUHK’s programme appraisals.

From Classroom to Community

Pre-placement training is important for the maintenance of professional standards. The social work programme includes two six-month field placements, in addition to at least 100 hours of pre-placement preparation. Through experiential learning, a growth camp, and field service, the four-week Social Work Field Laboratory let students experience the actual situations they would encounter while in training, and to acquire communication and intervention skills. Students are split into small groups of over 10 each, and with the guidance of experienced instructors from the department or from industry, leave their comfort zone to ponder personal values, to challenge and support each other, and find solutions to problems. Students on the three-year programme are obliged to take Social Work Field Laboratory, Social Case Work, and Community Work. If they pass these courses, they can take part in their first field placement in the second year. Under the four-year curriculum, however, the first field placement will be moved to the third year, given that students are now younger.

Even before their field placement, students have plenty of opportunities to visit welfare organizations and minority groups. When there are special topics, such as the anti-high-speed-rail action, teachers would bring students out for field observation and interviews, to increase their exposure. During the field placement, teachers regularly check on the students to give advice. Mrs. Lo Ng Mei-kuen Eva, senior instructor responsible for coordinating the field placement, said, ‘This prevents problems from piling up. When students first go out into the field, they’re inexperienced. Pity comes easily and so do tears. Teachers are their practical and emotional pillars, so we have to be very strong.’

From Local to Overseas

In 1997, Professor Lam returned to Hong Kong from Canada after completing postgraduate studies. During her time in Canada, she realized that as the number of Chinese migrants grew, there was a need for Chinese-speaking social workers. So she launched a non-local field placement. The department’s partnerships have extended to mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Canada. About 20 to 30% of the students would take part in the non-local field placement, upon completion of which, they would share their experiences with their classmates. Some students opt to stay put as they believe local experience was more beneficial to their future careers.

New cultures, different behaviours, foreign policies and alien systems are practising students’ greatest challenges. They are taught not to take anything for granted, to try to see things and handle issues from new perspectives. This broadens their minds, raises cultural sensitivity and consciousness, and provokes reflection.

The department has stringent measures in place to ensure the efficacy of the non-local field placement. First, the selection of students: consideration is only given to modest, open-minded students who are psychologically and cognitively prepared. Second, the selection of organizations: consideration is only given to those with experienced supervisors who will give one-on-one guidance to students on skills and attitude. Third, matching: students must have the required language skills, and strengths necessitated by the nature of the work. Mrs. Lo added, ‘The standard of social work training and field placement on the mainland is inconsistent. Students cannot rely on the organizations, but must work independently, under the guidance of instructors from CUHK. In Western countries, on the other hand, they will be able to learn from the local instructors.’

The department’s students have been held in high regard by overseas organizations, who complement them on their passion for learning, industriousness, and readiness to get involved. Ottawa Immigrant Women Services which helps abused ethnic minority women has written to the department, lauding the performance of students who worked with them last year.

Dependability, sincerity, maturity and independence are some of the industry's compliments for the department's graduates. Prof. Lam Ching-man believes that this has to do with student recruitment, the training's emphasis on instilling values, beliefs and responsibility, and a sturdy foundation in social work concepts. ‘Many people think that social work is only about practice. That’s not wrong. Without concepts, you may start off the same. But as time goes on, you won't have any vision, and your skills appear superficial. Social workers who know how to think and improve, tend to achieve more.’

An Intimate Network

A unique tradition of the CUHK Department of Social Work is the ‘master and apprentice’ relationship between teachers and students, and older and younger students. Teachers for the first and third years of the Student-oriented Teaching course remain the same, so that teachers and students can build up a relationship. Every upperclassman will guide one or two junior students, with whom they share experience and insight. The department also organizes activities that enhance learning; while alumni help to mentor students by providing learning opportunities in their organizations, local or overseas.

The social work programme offers custom-made education to each and every student, whether it’s solving problems or building up their inner strength, providing them with wisdom unknown to books.

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