THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Tata Institute of Volume 73,...
THE INDIAN JOURNAL
OF
SOCIAL WORK
Tata Institute
of
Volume 73, Issue 1
Social Sciences
January 2012
Social Work Education in the Arab
Countries
aBdulaziz alBrithen
Social work is yet to be recognised as a discipline independent of Sociology. In order
to develop as an independent discipline in its own right, social work educators need to
come together and examine the need to set standards for social work education and
practice appropriate to their cultural contexts. This article attempts to review historical
emergence of undergraduate, graduate and post graduate level social work education
in Arabic countries.
Abdulaziz Albrithen is Associate Professor of Social Work with the Department of Social
Studies, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The Western model of health care services, which has evolved rapidly in
Saudi Arabia, incorporates multi-disciplinary professional teams. Social
work practice forms part of the patient care team (Yalli, 2008). Social
workers work with clients suffering from various emotional, spiritual and
mental disorders that may require professional intervention.
In the Arab world, a trained social worker has to develop a treatment
programme keeping in mind the situational environment of the client.
Social workers need to be knowledgeable about their target populations
and be holistic in their co-operative engagement with the client, client’s
family, other related agencies and hospital departments. Furthermore,
social workers require refined interpersonal communication skills to
interact with male and/or female clients requiring their support. Cultural
sensitivity is also required given that religion plays a major role in the
lives of people in the Arab states. For example, in view of the fact that
alcohol consumption is religiously and socially illegal in Saudi society,
it is most likely that there could be a social stigma attached to becoming
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50 Abdulaziz Albrithen
official university in Lebanon that has adopted the French system of
higher education. Social work education at this University exists in two
colleges: a) the College of Health which focuses on medical social work
requiring theoretical courses in social and health fields, applied research
and field placement throughout the four years of study leading to a BA
degree in Social Work; and b) the College of Social Sciences which offers
a three year undergraduate level social work programme without field
placement. However, those who want to continue their higher education
can study one more year maitrise to gain mastery or expertise which
allows them to pursue postgraduate level MA and PhD degrees in social
work. The second institution is Saint Joseph’s University which is a
private university following the French system of higher education. This
university offers four different degrees in social work—(1) bachelors
degree after six semesters of study, (2) maitrise after two semesters of
study, (3) postgraduate diploma after two semesters of study, and (4)
masters degree after two semesters of study. The third institution is
the Lebanese American University which is a private and independent
university following the American system of higher education. This
university offers only BA programmes in social work.
In Libya, education for social work was started in 1964 at the first
intermediate institute for boys in Benghazi and in 1967 for girls in Tripoli.
The programme at both the Institutes require four years of study. More
intermediate institutes in social work mushroomed throughout the country,
but all of them closed by 1988.
In 1989, the Professional Secondary School of Social Work was
established to offer a certificate in social work at the intermediate
educational level. This school also closed shortly after opening a BA
in social work had begun at the Libyan University in 1970, but it
closed in 1989. Two new social work institutes, one in Tripoli and the
other in Benghazi, re-opened. The BA programme in social work in
these two academic institutes took three years of study. The institutes
offered postgraduate diplomas in social work in three majors: (a) social
welfare, (b) community organisation and development, and (c) insurance
affairs. While the Benghazi institute is still open, the Tripoli institute
closed in 1989 and reopened as the High Institute of Applied Social
Sciences to become the College of Applied Social Sciences in 1991.
Before the college was closed in 1996, it was offering undergraduate
and postgraduate degrees in social work. In 1997, a Department of
Social Work at the Faculty of Arts in Alfateh University in Tripoli was
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46 Abdulaziz Albrithen
an alcoholic. Given the strong negative repurcussions of this social
stigma, some individuals may avoid seeking medical intervention or
treatment. Social workers in the treatment process should develop ways
to provide more privacy for patients and their families. In this context,
group therapy would be culturally inappropriate in Saudi society as people
are uncomfortable discussing their personal problems in the company of
others. Therefore, more individualised treatment is a more acceptable line
of treatment. All medical stakeholders need to be engaged to maximise the
efficacy of the intervention.
Another facet of the role of the social worker relates to prevention
strategies and management. Social workers are required to engage in a
dialogue with other professionals to be able to organise marriage guidance
workshops. In other words, social workers are expected to take the initiative
to assist and encourage the participation of other stakeholders in the medical
institution. Social workers, as part of their professional duties, may find that
they could be engaged in community out-reach programmes beyond the
confines of the hospital setting. The College of Social Sciences programme
at the Umm Al-Qura University (UQU) includes courses on casework, group
work, community organisation, administration and research in social work.
Also, there are courses in core fields such as delinquency and crime, medical
social work, school social work, family and child welfare, and social work
with the disabled members of society (DSW, 2010).
Interestingly, female social workers comprise close to half of the
registered social workers in Saudi Arabia. After education and health, the
discipline of social work is considered to be one of the most popular career
options for women in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, as is the case in the
health field, social work allows women social workers to work with both
male and female clients.
Given the above overview, this paper will endeavour to articulate the
fact that there is recognition that social work practice requires a specially
designed education programme cognisant of the cultural aspects of a large
predominantly state-run government welfare service delivery system.
Arab universities are now aware that the content and pedagogy of their
courses must align with the tenets of Islam.
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Having taken a glimpse of the current position of social work practice, it
is important to trace the origins and history of the development of formal
social work education in Arab countries. Egypt was the first country to
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Social Work Education in the Arab Countries 47
recognise the need for social work education in the 1930s. Initially, social
work education followed the social settlement model by supporting the
poor in the community. It has been alluded that this impetus came from
women belonging to the royal family who saw the need for well trained
social workers, and the king approved the initiative to establish a social
work education centre.
Social work education focused on utilising existing models of case
work to work with individuals and families experiencing difficulties due
to poverty, illiteracy and other social problems. The mid 20th Century
witnessed a move towards nationalisation with a changed perspective to
social and economic development. The second half of the century saw the
influence of socialist ideologies on most of the Arab governments in their
commitment to meet fundamental needs of their societies with regard to
health care, education, housing, and employment. As reflected in detail
later in this paper, a move from a socialist model to a free market economy
in the 1970’s meant that some educational training institutions were closed
due to funding issues as allocations were diverted to public housing and
employment projects. With a decline in the number of social workers and
an expansion in globalisation and technology, it has taken time to reassess
old curricula and introduce new programmes to meet the human power
needs for well trained social work undergraduates (Midgley, 1990).
As such, the curriculum for social work education programmes were
derived largely from foreign models, particularly from the United States
and England. The Western curricula were adopted with little to no change
to accommodate the cultural and ethnic environments of Middle East
clients (Ragab, 1995). By the early 1980’s, key incompatibilities surfaced
when there was a realisation that the social work models of social work
curricula and pedagogy were not founded in Islamic origins. Martin Marty
(1980) pointed out that social workers needed to incorporate the ‘religious’
or ‘spiritual’ aspects into their theoretical models of social work education
and practice as their clients were religious, and living in a society that
values spirituality.
Country by Country Perspective
The beginning of social work education in the Arab world was first
seen in Egypt in the 1930’s. (This programme then spread to other Arab
countries in the ensuing years). The Ministry of Higher Education in
Egypt established a four year social work programme in two colleges
in Alexandria in 1936 and Cairo in 1937. The first batch of students of
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48 Abdulaziz Albrithen
these two colleges graduated in the academic year 1939–1940 (Albrithen,
2008; Albrithen, 2010). In 1946, the Egyptian government recognised the
Diploma of Social Work of the two aforementioned colleges, now named
The Higher Institute of Social Work. In the same year the government
founded The Higher Institute of Social Work, which later became the
Faculty of Social Work at Helwan University.
At present, there are social work colleges at four national universities:
Helwan, Fayoum, South Valley, and Assiut conferring degrees at the
bachelor’s level (Albrithen, 2008; Albrithen, 2010). About six institutes
award a Graduate Diploma of Social Work and about thirteen award
Postgraduate Diplomas in Social Work.
The curricula in the1940s were exact copies of the social work curricula
in the United States of America. The courses taught comprised social work,
social welfare, social work methods—social casework, social group work,
community organisation, field placement, and auxiliary sciences. To name
a few, some of the textbooks used were those by Fink, Stroup, Siporin and
Richmond (Abdullatif and others, 1993). These courses were taught by
Egyptians with American M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in social work. Social
work curricula have undergone several changes since the 1950s, but the
substance of the syllabi have remained more or less unchanged.
The Higher Council for Social Reform in Egypt was established in
1936, and the Ministry of Social Affairs was established in 1939. The task
of the ministry was to oversee all social work educational institutions and
organisations delivering social welfare services. Additionally, social work
was incorporated in the fields of medicine, education, labour, prisons,
family and child welfare, as well as in youth welfare after the 1950s.
Social work practice expanded only after 1950.
In Sudan, social work education at the BA level began at the Omdurman
Islamic University (OIU) in 1967. In 1968, a post-secondary diploma and
a post-graduate diploma were created at the University of Khartoum. In the
early 90s, MA and PhD programmes in social work began at the OIU. In the
academic year 2005–2006, the Al-Neelain University started a new major in
the Department of Social Studies and awarded a BA in social work.
In Jordan, social work education started with the establishment of
the Institute of Social Work in 1965. The Institute, which awarded a
diploma in social work, had been affiliated with the Ministry of Social
Development until 1998 when it became part of Princess Rahma
College at Al-Balqa Applied University in Al-Salt region. In 1998,
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Social Work Education in the Arab Countries 49
the University of Jordan offered an MA programme, and in 2007 a
BA programme was introduced by the Department of Social Work.
The Master’s programme, which is a non-thesis programme, provides
advanced training in the study of community work and the empowerment
of civil society. Currently, there are two more BA programmes, one being
offered by Al-Balga Applied University, which was initiated in 2000, and
the other one being administered by Yarmouk University, since 2007.
In Palestine, social work education began in 1978 at Annajah National
University. The BA students have to complete 137 credit hours. These
include compulsory and elective courses as well as ‘free’ courses offered
by the university college and departments. The Department of Social
Work at Al-Quds University also awards a BA in social work. The
programme totals 148 credit hours. There is another combined BA degree
titled ‘Sociology and Social Work’ at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. This
double major programme requires a student to complete 150 credit hours.
In addition to these three BA programmes in Palestine, there is a fourth
social work programme run by the Department of Social Sciences at the
Bethlehem University. In this programme, a BA student needs to earn a
total of 122 credits.
In Iraq, social work education was introduced at the Queen Aliah College
(later named Girls’ College) in 1950 with the help of the United Nations
Organization. At the College of Arts in Mosul University, a Department
of Social Work was opened in 1985–1986. The programme had a stilted
start which then necessitated a change in the curriculum. Accordingly,
the Department name was changed to the Department of Sociology in the
academic year of 1995–1996. Postgraduate programmes were conducted
by the Department for eight years, to be suspended in 2004–2005 due to
understaffing.
In Syria, social work education began at the Damascus Institute of Social
Work in the 1960s. However, the Institute was later closed to be reopened
once again in 1981 under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Affairs. It
was developed to supply professional social workers to social sector
programmes of the government. The study at the Institute takes two full
years divided equally between theory in the first year, and practice in the
second year. The students in the programme are awarded an intermediate
Diploma in Social Work.
In Lebanon, there are three institutions that offer social work
education. The first institution is the Lebanese University, which is the
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Social Work Education in the Arab Countries 51
established. The Department offers BA, MA, and PhD programmes in
social work. This university houses the only advanced Department of
Social Work in the country.
In Tunisia, social work education started in 1964 at the National School
of Social Work. In 1965, some Tunisian institutions that dealt with youth and
social affairs further established programmes in social work and education
in collaboration with the UNICEF. These programmes did not exist for a long
time because they aimed to produce limited number of professional social
workers who were to fill a certain number of positions across the country.
Since 1974, the National School became the National Institute of Labour
and Social Studies; it belongs to both the Ministry of Higher Education
and Scientific Research and the Ministry of Social Affairs Solidarity and
Tunisians Abroad. At present, it is the only institution that offers social work
degrees in Tunisia—(a) License in Social Work after three years of study,
and (b) Masters of Social Work after two years of study.
Compared with other Arab states, social work education in Yemen started
in 2001 as a joint programme of the UNICEF, the University of Adan, and
the Helwan University. A BA programme in social work was established in
the College of Arts in the University of Adan. The agreement stipulated that
the Helwan University would be responsible for curriculum, syllabus, and
staffing. The programme comprises theoretical courses, applied research,
and practicum totalling 136 credit hours. In 2003, a similar agreement was
signed by the UNICEF, the Sana’a University, and the Helwan University.
The agreement called upon the Sociology Department of the University of
Sana’a to start a new one year programme in social work. The UNICEF
however, wanted an independent Department of Social Work to be
established in the College of Arts at the Sana`a University to offer a BA in
social work in 2007. The issue is in the process of being sorted out.
Social work education began in Saudi Arabia in 1962, when a Secondary
Institute of Social Work was established for holders of intermediate school
certificates. The Secondary Institute provided the students with courses in
general social work, exposure to the three major methods of practice, and
practice at the Center for Social Development in Addiriyah, an institute
that was established in 1960. Ever since, eight batches of students,
totalling 189 practitioners have graduated from this institute (Albrithen,
2010; Albrithen, 2008).
Currently in Saudi Arabia, there are BA programmes in social work
offered by five universities. The first and the oldest programme is offered
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52 Abdulaziz Albrithen
by the Department of Social Studies, College of Arts at the King Saud
University. The Department offers both sociology and social work majors.
A student can choose his/her major after passing the second year. Social
work students are required to take 127 credit hours that include theoretical
courses and field placement. The second programme is administered by
the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the College of Social
Sciences, Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University. To finish this
programme, a student has to pass 169 credit hours that include theoretical
courses, applied research, and field placement. The third programme is
offered by the Department of Social Work at the College of Social Sciences,
Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah which is the only department
precisely named ‘Social Work Department’. The programme offered by
the Department requires 132 credit hours that include theoretical courses,
applied research, and field placement. The fourth social work programme
is exclusively for girls and is run by the College of Social Work, Princess
Nora Bent Abdul Rahman University. The credit hours in this programme
totals 128 hours. The newest ‘BA’ programme established just recently in
2009 as part of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the Faculty
of Arts and Humanities, operates out of the King Abdulaziz University in
Jeddah. This programme requires passing 124 credit hours that include
theoretical courses, applied research, and field placement during the fourth
year.
Postgraduate studies in social work began as a section of the Department
of Social Studies at the King Saud University in Riyadh in 1978 (Albrithen,
2010; Albrithen, 2008). Currently, Saudi Arabia offers three MA and two
PhD programmes in social work. All of them have structures and designs
similar to those offered in the United States. The Department of Social
Studies at the King Saud University teaches two programmes leading to
MA and PhD degrees. The College of Social Work at the Princess Nora
Bent Abdul Rahman University also offers two programmes leading to
MA and PhD degrees. The Department of Sociology and Social Work
at the Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University offers one MA
programme.
In the State of Qatar, social work education began at the Faculty of
Humanities and Social Sciences in 1977. There is only one BA programme
in social work administered by the Department of Social Sciences at Qatar
University.
In the United Arab Emirates, social work education began with a BA
programme in the Department of Sociology of the Emirates University in
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Social Work Education in the Arab Countries 53
the city of Al Ain in 1978. The programme totals 132 credit hours. Students
take core courses and electives. These include introduction to social work,
preventive social work, human behaviour and social environment, medical
social work, as well as other courses.
In Kuwait, social work education began at the Faculty of Arts, Kuwait
University in 1980. The College of Social Sciences established in 1998
hosts the Department of Sociology and Social Work that offers BA
programmes in social work.
In the Kingdom of Bahrain, social work education was established in
1995 as a section of the general studies of the University of Bahrain. The
University awarded two year diploma in social work totalling 69 hours. In
1997, the programme was upgraded to the level of BA in social work with
105 credit hours.
Social work education in the Sultanate of Oman started in 2000 at the
Department of Sociology and Social Work at the Sultan Qaboos University.
The Department awards two degrees in social work—a BA degree after
the student completes 127 credit hours and an MA degree that requires a
student to finish 24 credit hours plus a thesis.
CONCLUSION
Starting from the 1930s in Egypt, social work education and practice has
gained acceptance by the regimes in the Arab World. Currently, there are
more than 75 social work educational institutions in the region producing
trained social workers with bachelors and masters degrees in addition to
certificate and diploma holders. Despite the fact that there is no uniformity
among them in terms of structure and curriculum contents of social work
educational programmes, the fact that they have extensively adopted
curricula developed by the Western countries stands out. Social Work as
an independent discipline is yet to develop its own identity apart from
Sociology. The extent to which the curricula and pedagogy have been
Islamised is not clear. As in other parts of the world, social work seems to
be popular among women and women are allowed to deal with both the
sexes in the course of their practice.
It is noteworthy that in some countries, social work educational
institutions and programmes were established, closed and re-established.
It will be interesting to note if these episodes are in keeping with the trends
of the emergence and regulation of civil society movements, social action
and organisations.
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54 Abdulaziz Albrithen
In order to develop as an independent discipline in its own right,
social work educators need to come together and examine the need to
set standards for social work education and practice appropriate to their
cultural contexts. The Global Standards for Social Work Education and
Training (2004) created by the International Associations of Schools
of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social
Workers (IFSW) may be examined and adopted to the needs of the Arab
World. Given the fact that the region is determined by the economic
and political developments in each of the countries, the possibility of
establishing a Common Council for Social Work Education needs to be
explored.
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