Contemporary challenges of social work in Nepal

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Raj K. Yadav

Is social work profession and education really in crisis at its early stage in Nepal? The anecdotal remarks made by the pundits of this arena are not only vague but also require empirical base.  Instead of superficial analysis, which is leading us towards confusion, we need to develop specific comprehension on social work area characterized by crisis.

The social work professional who includes both practitioners and educators must apply structural analysis to understand the field. Similarly, they should seek to spend valuable period to explore and research chronological development of social work in the same country. This document is product of discussions with social workers at Nepal. Also, several literatures from other nations have been consulted and compared with the Nepalese social work practice to come to conclusion.

A close analysis on the crisis of social work field in Nepal could be marked by imperialism root, lack of recontextualization, absence of collective battle of ideas, inability to keep perspective and bypassing the concept of indigenous social work.

Imperialism roots

Fr Charles Law’s effort to establish social work department at St. Xavier’s College in 1996 made him one of the pioneer personality in this field. However, only few know that social work education was imported as training in 1987 by Br James F. Gates, S.J. Social work education promoted by Fr Charles Law and Br James F Gates were not compatible with the then society because it came to us having ‘western stamp’ added with ‘Indian flavour’ (since early supports were also made from Nirmala Niketan, an Indian social work institute).

            In other words, the origin of Nepalese social work is western imperialism. The reason behind such an analysis is that both Fr Charles Law and Br James F. Gates brought American medical mode of social work which was probably not suitable to then society. They brought western modern profession of which ideology, teleology and epistemology were also not relevant to the under developed country, Nepal. Moreover, the initial social work educators were brought from either western country or India who taught their social work in Nepal.


Should developing or under developed nations accept modern western profession without any modification? Majority of social workers around the world respond – approving imperialism roots in social work is danger because it does not provide sufficient knowledge about culture, economic, social and political aspects of local people. They continue, imported social work is not able to address social problems in particular country. Therefore, re-contextualization is vital to nurture social work education and practice in specific region.

According to Bernstein (1996), re-contextualization is concerned with the construction of pedagogical discourse that “is a principle for appropriating other discourse and bringing them into a special relation with each other for the purpose of their selective transmission and acquisition”. As re-contextualization is political, a systematic relation must be developed between its two components viz. Official contextualization Field (state agencies, ministries, non-profit organizations) and Pedagogical Contextualization Field (educators and researchers).  However, none of the social work graduates from this country have discussed on this topic that what measures should be taken to recontextualize imported social work. 

Lack of collective ‘Battle of Ideas’

In seventeen years, a systematic debate over social work would have been recognized this profession. It is not suggest that there were not any discussion on social work profession. A few of them which put efforts to establish this profession was solely based on fragmented approach. The collective discussion which includes holistic aspects of the profession was rarely seen in the country. Even now, parties seeking to recognize this profession are not able to stand at one point and claim unity among them. The divisions among social work professionals and educators are clearly visible in the country. Also, the universities and colleges have shown no interest to initiate collective forum to promote social work practice for the better quality of lives for subjects of state.

Inability to keep perspective

Social work being modern western profession, while imported to any nation is supposed to be transformed to suit local context. Though, experiences shows that ‘what could be direction of social work’ has not attracted any stakeholders in the context of Nepal. It is advisable to social work educators and professional to focus this issue at larger discussion and set perspective for the social work practice before someone quote it as failed profession in the country.

 Social work areas

Most of the social work students in the country are not aware where they are going to work in future. Even, social work educators are not able to clearly demonstrate the varieties of areas of this field. As a result, many of them end up with private agencies doing extremely different works than of social workers causing not only frustration but also a low sense of status among them. A high priority should be given in Nepalese Social Work profession to identify the possible areas for social workers.

Bypassing indigenous social work

Nepal is country of diversified culture, linguistic background, caste and ethnics groups. The social, economic, cultural and political aspects of these groups are not similar to each other. In this context, promotion of western social work without modification is just a violation of political rights of indigenous people.

Indigenous social work has been used to refer to the idea that theories, values, knowledge and philosophies should be relevant to local contexts. Moreover, highlighting indigenous social work will promote legitimacy and authenticity of the profession in the country. A localized social work will create recognition of indigenous disadvantage, indigenous rights and higher degree of community benefit in the country.

To conclude, legitimacy of professional social work is not sure unless the professional are going to address those matters as stated above. It is never late to initiate and probably it is a lesson for all the social workers to start thinking on these phenomenon.  


Position: PhD students


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