Comparison Social Work Field Education in the World

Somsak Nakhalajarn MSW., LSW.

Faculty of Social Work and Social Welfare

Huachiew Chalermprakiet University

4 January 2024


Comparison Social Work Field Education in the World


I.    History of Social Work Field Education in the USA.

Field instruction, or field education, is a critical component of social work education, offering students the opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings. Its history is intertwined with the evolution of social work as a profession.


1.     Early Beginnings (Late 19th – Early 20th Century):


1)     The roots of field instruction date back to the late 19th century when social work emerged as a profession. Early training for social workers was informal, often conducted within charitable organizations.

2)     In 1898, the New York Charity Organization Society established the first formal social work training program, which included fieldwork as a crucial component.


2.     Professionalization and Standardization (Early – Mid 20th Century):


1)     The early 20th century saw the establishment of more formal education programs and schools of social work. For instance, the establishment of the New York School of Philanthropy (later the Columbia University School of Social Work) in 1904 and others followed suit.

2)     The Association of Training Schools of Professional Social Work (later the Council on Social Work EducationCSWE) was formed in 1920 to standardize social work education. Field instruction was recognized as an essential part of the curriculum.


3.     Expansion and Diversification (Mid 20th Century – 1970s):


1)     Post World War II, there was a significant expansion in social work education due to societal changes and increasing recognition of the profession. There was a greater emphasis on a more rigorous, method-based practice.

2)     The 1960s and 1970s saw further diversification in the field with the introduction of specializations and an increased focus on clinical practice and advocacy, reflecting in field education with placements in a broader array of settings.


4.     Standardization and Professional Competencies (1980s – 2000s):


1)     The CSWE continued to refine and standardize the educational requirements, including field instruction. In 1982, the CSWE mandated that BSW and MSW programs include a field instruction component.

2)     The focus shifted towards developing specific competencies and measurable outcomes for field education, aligning with the broader goals of professional social work practice.


5.     Contemporary Challenges and Innovations (21st Century):


1)     With the advent of new societal issues and technological advancements, field instruction faces new challenges and opportunities. This includes addressing diverse and complex client needs, and incorporating virtual or simulated field experiences.

2)     Current trends also emphasize interprofessional education, where social work students collaborate with other disciplines during their field placements to promote holistic service delivery.


          Throughout its history, field instruction has been recognized as the "signature pedagogy" of social work education, where the profession’s values, skills, and knowledge are imparted in a real-world context. It continues to evolve, reflecting changes in societal needs, professional standards, and educational practices.


II.  History of Social Work Field Education of UK.

The history of social work field education in the UK is an extensive and evolving one, closely linked to the development of social work as a profession. Here’s a brief overview:


1.     Early Beginnings (Late 19th – Early 20th Century):

1)     Social work in the UK has its roots in the philanthropic movements of the 19th century. These were often led by religious organizations and focused on addressing poverty and social injustice.

2)     Training was informal and based on apprenticeship models, where new workers would learn by working alongside experienced individuals.


2.     Professionalization and Formal Education (Early 20th Century):

1)     As social problems became more complex, there was a growing recognition of the need for formal training and professional standards.

2)     The establishment of the London School of Economics in 1895 and later, the appointment of the first professor of Social Science and Administration in 1912, were key milestones. These institutions began offering formal training and education for social workers.


3.     Post-War Expansion and Specialization (Mid 20th Century):

1)     After World War II, there was significant expansion in the welfare state and social services in the UK. This period saw a growing demand for professionally trained social workers.

2)     Universities and colleges expanded their social work programs, and there was a move towards graduate education. The introduction of the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) in the 1970s standardized training across the country.


4.     Regulation and Standardization (Late 20th – Early 21st Century):

1)     The late 20th century was marked by a series of reforms aimed at improving the quality and consistency of social work education.

2)     This included the establishment of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) and later the General Social Care Council (GSCC). These bodies set standards for social work education and practice.


5.     Contemporary Developments (21st Century):

1)     The 21st century has seen continued reform and debate over the best way to educate and train social workers.

2)     Recent years have seen the introduction of fast-track programs like Frontline and Step Up to Social Work, designed to attract high-quality graduates into the profession. There’s also been a focus on integrating more practical, field-based learning opportunities for students.


III.    History of Social Work Field Education of JAPAN.


The history of social work field education in Japan has evolved over the years, reflecting broader changes in Japanese society, as well as developments in social work practice and education globally.


1.     Early 20th Century (Pre-WWII):

1)     Social work as a formal discipline was relatively undeveloped.

2)     However, there were some philanthropic and welfare activities, influenced by both indigenous Japanese traditions and Western ideas, that laid the groundwork for the future profession.


2.     Post-WWII Era:

1)     After World War II, Japan underwent significant reconstruction, which included the establishment of a welfare state. With the new constitution and social welfare laws, there was a growing need for professional social workers.

2)     The American occupation forces and other Western influences played a significant role in shaping social work education during this time, introducing modern social work practices and educational standards.


3.     1960s-1980s:

1)     Japan saw rapid economic growth and social changes.

2)     The government established more comprehensive social welfare policies, and the demand for professional social workers increased. Universities began offering social work programs, and field education became an integral part of the curriculum, influenced by American and European models.


4.     1990s-Present:

1)     The 1990s brought about an era of introspection in the field of social work in Japan, with an emphasis on developing a uniquely Japanese approach to social work that considered the country’s specific cultural, social, and historical context.

2)     The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has been actively involved in promoting and standardizing social work education. Field education has become more structured, with clear goals, processes, and evaluation criteria. There has been a growing emphasis on research, evidence-based practice, and international collaboration.


5.     Challenges and Developments:

1)     Japan faces ongoing challenges such as an aging population, child welfare, and mental health issues.

2)     These challenges have led to further developments in field education, with a focus on specialized training and interprofessional collaboration.

3)     There’s also an increasing recognition of the need for culturally sensitive practices that address the diverse needs of Japan’s population.




IV.    History of Social Work Field Education of THAILAND.


The history of social work field education in Thailand has evolved significantly over the years, reflecting broader social, economic, and political changes in the country. Here’s a general overview:


1.  Early Beginnings and Western Influence (1950s-1960s):

1)     Social work as a formal field of study in Thailand began in the mid-20th century, heavily influenced by Western models, particularly from the United States.

2)     The Faculty of Social Administration, Thammasat University was established on January 25, 1954, introducing the first programs in social work. In the 1960s, these early programs frequently incorporated practical field education segments, wherein students would engage in community work under guided supervision.


2.  Expansion and Localization (1970s-1980s):

1)     As Thailand continued to develop, there was a growing recognition of the unique social challenges facing the country. This period saw an expansion of social work education programs and a shift towards incorporating more local knowledge and practices.

2)     Universities began to develop their curricula to address specific Thai social issues, and field education started to focus more on local communities and indigenous approaches.

3)     The social work education at Huachiew Chalermprakiet University in Thailand has its roots in the university’s commitment to "Service to Society and Educational Development." Established in 1941 as a midwifery school, it expanded in 1982 to include a nursing college and later a Faculty of Social Work offering a Bachelor of Social Work program. This expansion was in response to the nation’s development needs and aligned with the government’s social development plans.


3.  Professionalization and Diversification (1990s-2000s):

1)     The 1990s and 2000s were marked by efforts to professionalize social work in Thailand. There was a push to establish standards for social work education and practice.

2)     Field education became more structured, with clear objectives and outcomes.

3)     Additionally, there was a diversification in the types of field placements available to students, including government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations.


4.  Contemporary Trends (2010s-Present):

1)     In recent years, social work field education in Thailand has continued to evolve. There’s been an increasing emphasis on evidence-based practice and interdisciplinary collaboration.

2)     Social issues such as human rights, child welfare, and mental health have become more prominent in field education.

3)     Universities and colleges have also been integrating more technology and online learning tools into their programs.


Comparison Social Work Field Education in the World


Comparing fieldwork education in social work around the world involves examining various aspects such as the curriculum, duration, types of field placements, supervision methods, and the integration of theory and practice. Each country or region may have its distinct approach, influenced by its cultural, social, and educational norms.


In the United States, fieldwork is considered a central component of social work education, often requiring a specific number of hours in a community or agency setting. Students are typically supervised by licensed social workers and are expected to integrate classroom learning with real-world practice.


In Europe, the approach can vary significantly between countries. Some might place a greater emphasis on theoretical learning with shorter placements, while others might offer longer, more immersive experiences.


Countries in Asia, Africa, and South America might have different priorities and resources, influencing the structure and focus of their fieldwork education. For instance, in areas with fewer formal social services, fieldwork might focus more on community-based solutions and less on agency work.


In comparing these systems, factors like the role of the social worker in society, the types of social issues prevalent in the region, and the resources available for social services and education must be considered. Additionally, the impact of these fieldwork experiences on both student development and community well-being is a critical aspect of any comparison.


While the specifics of fieldwork education in social work can vary widely around the world, the underlying goal remains the same: to prepare students to effectively address social issues and help those in need within their communities.


In the United States

In the United States, fieldwork education is a critical component of social work training and is mandated by accrediting bodies like the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Here are the key aspects:


1.     Curriculum Integration: Fieldwork, also known as field education or practicum, is integrated with academic learning. Students typically take courses concurrently with their field placement or have completed relevant coursework beforehand.


2.     Duration and Hours: The duration and required hours of fieldwork can vary depending on the program (BSW or MSW) and the school. Generally, BSW students might complete around 400 hours, while MSW students could be required to complete around 900-1,200 hours of fieldwork.


3.     Placement Types: Students are placed in various settings such as schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, child welfare agencies, and non-profit organizations. The aim is to expose students to diverse populations and social work roles.


4.     Supervision: Students are supervised by experienced social workers who provide regular guidance and feedback. Supervisors are typically required to have a minimum number of years of professional experience and hold a valid social work license.


5.     Learning Agreements: At the beginning of their placement, students often create learning agreements outlining their objectives, which are aligned with the competencies set by the CSWE. These agreements are used to guide the fieldwork experience and ensure that students gain the necessary skills and knowledge.


6.     Evaluation: Students are regularly evaluated on their performance and ability to apply social work theory to practice. This evaluation is often a collaborative process involving the student, field supervisor, and faculty.


7.     Challenges and Opportunities: Fieldwork in the U.S. presents both challenges and opportunities. Students might face emotional and logistical challenges but also have the chance to make significant impacts, network, and discover their interests within the field of social work.


8.     Impact of Technology and Innovation: Recent years have seen an increase in virtual field placements and the use of technology in field education, especially prompted by situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. This has opened up new possibilities and considerations for fieldwork education.


9.     Ethical and Cultural Competency: Fieldwork education strongly emphasizes ethical practice and cultural competency. Students learn to navigate diverse communities and understand the ethical implications of their work.


10.  Post-Graduation: The fieldwork experience is often pivotal in shaping a student’s career path and may lead to job opportunities post-graduation. It’s also a stepping stone towards licensure as many states require a certain number of supervised practice hours.


In summary, fieldwork in the United States is a structured, supervised, and integral part of social work education, designed to prepare students for professional practice by blending theoretical knowledge with real-world application.


In Europe

Fieldwork education in social work across Europe can vary considerably due to different educational systems, regulatory bodies, and cultural practices. However, several common elements and trends can be identified:


1.      Educational Structure: Social work education in Europe can be offered at various levels, including bachelor’s (usually 3-4 years), master’s (1-2 years), and doctoral levels. Fieldwork is an essential component of these programs, though the specifics can vary.


2.      Duration and Hours: The duration and required hours of fieldwork vary between countries and institutions. Generally, it’s less standardized than in the U.S., with some programs offering shorter placements and others requiring a year or more of field practice.


3.      Diversity in Placement: Similar to the U.S., European students are placed in a variety of settings, including public welfare agencies, NGOs, hospitals, and schools. The focus might vary significantly from country to country, reflecting different social welfare policies and priorities.


4.      Supervision: Students are usually supervised by experienced practitioners. However, the qualifications and experience required to be a supervisor can vary. Some countries have strict guidelines, while others are more flexible.


5.      Integration with Academia: There’s a strong emphasis on integrating theoretical knowledge with practical experience. Many programs encourage reflective practice, where students critically analyze their field experiences in light of social work theory and ethics.


6.      Regulatory Bodies and Standards: Various countries have their regulatory bodies and standards for social work education and practice. For instance, the UK has the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) which set standards and guidelines.


7.      Impact of the Bologna Process: The Bologna Process, aiming to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher-education qualifications, has influenced social work education in Europe. It has led to more standardized levels of higher education across participating countries.


8.      Cultural and Ethical Competency: With Europe’s diverse cultures, languages, and social policies, social work education places a strong emphasis on cultural competency and ethical practice, preparing students to work in a variety of social and cultural settings.


9.      Challenges and Innovations: European social work students and educators face challenges such as varying standards, diverse social issues, and, recently, the impact of migrations and economic crises. Innovations in fieldwork education might include international placements, inter-professional education, and the use of technology.


10.  Post-Graduation and Mobility: The European Union’s policies generally allow for a degree of professional mobility, meaning social workers can move and practice in different EU countries. However, they must often meet the host country’s certification and language requirements.


In summary, fieldwork education in social work across Europe is characterized by its diversity, reflecting the continent’s varied social policies, educational systems, and cultural contexts. Despite these differences, the core aim remains to integrate theory with practice and prepare students for ethical and effective social work practice.


Countries in Asia, Africa, and South America

Fieldwork education in social work in Asia, Africa, and South America is influenced by a range of factors, including cultural norms, economic conditions, social challenges, and educational structures. Here’s an overview of fieldwork education in these regions:



1.     Diverse Educational Systems: Asian countries have diverse educational systems and standards for social work, ranging from highly structured programs in countries like Japan and South Korea to more emerging programs in other regions.


2.     Cultural Context: Social work education often incorporates local cultural values and practices. For example, in countries like India, social work may include understanding caste systems and local community structures.


3.     Urban vs. Rural Focus: Fieldwork might differ significantly between urban and rural settings, with rural areas sometimes focusing on community development and urban areas on clinical social work.


4.     Government and NGO Involvement: In many Asian countries, NGOs play a significant role in social services, and students may have opportunities to work in these organizations during their field placements.



1.     Resource Variability: The availability and quality of social work education and fieldwork opportunities can vary widely, often influenced by economic conditions and social policies.


2.     Community-Based Approaches: There’s often a strong emphasis on community-based social work, reflecting the communal cultures and the need for broad-based social support in many African societies.


3.     Impact of Social Issues: Fieldwork education is heavily influenced by prevalent social issues such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, and conflict. Students often work directly with affected populations.


4.     Partnerships and International Collaboration: Some African countries have partnerships with international universities and organizations to enhance social work education and provide broader fieldwork opportunities.


South America:

Social Justice Focus: Social work education often has a strong focus on social justice, reflecting the region’s history of social inequality and activism. Fieldwork might involve working with marginalized communities.


1.     Variety of Settings: Students might work in a variety of settings, including urban slums, rural communities, and with indigenous populations, reflecting the continent’s diverse social landscape.


2.     Influence of Political and Economic Context: The political and economic situation in South American countries can greatly influence social work practice and education, impacting the types of fieldwork available.


3.     Collaborative and Integrative Approaches: There’s often an emphasis on collaborative and integrative approaches, reflecting the communal and familial cultures prevalent in many South American societies.


In summary, fieldwork education in social work in Asia, Africa, and South America is shaped by each region’s unique cultural, economic, and social contexts. While there are challenges, there’s also a strong focus on community-based practices, social justice, and addressing prevalent social issues directly through field placements.


Summary of social work practicum, also known as a field placement, is a critical component of social work education where students apply their classroom knowledge in a real-world setting. Reasonable expectations of a social work practicum student include:


1.     Professionalism: Exhibiting a professional demeanor in behavior, appearance, and communication. This includes punctuality, respect for colleagues and clients, and adherence to the workplace’s code of conduct.


2.     Ethical Conduct: Adhering to the ethical standards of the social work profession, as outlined by organizations like the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). This involves maintaining confidentiality, practicing within one’s competence, and showing respect for the dignity and rights of all individuals.


3.     Active Learning and Engagement: Demonstrating a willingness to learn and actively engage in the practicum experience. This means being open to feedback, asking questions, and showing initiative in learning new skills and concepts.


4.     Application of Theoretical Knowledge: Applying social work theories and models learned in the classroom to practice. This involves understanding different intervention techniques and adapting them to the needs of clients.


5.     Cultural Competence: Exhibiting an awareness of and sensitivity to cultural diversity and the impact of social and economic injustice. Practicum students should strive to understand the cultural backgrounds and experiences of their clients to provide effective and respectful services.


6.     Communication Skills: Demonstrating effective communication skills, both verbally and in writing. This includes clear and professional documentation, active listening skills, and the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly and empathetically.


7.     Self-Reflection and Self-Care: Engaging in self-reflection to understand one’s own values, biases, and reactions, and how these impact professional practice. Practicum students should also practice self-care to manage the emotional demands of social work.


8.     Supervision and Guidance: Utilizing supervision effectively by preparing for supervision sessions, being open to constructive criticism, and using feedback for professional growth.


9.     Collaboration and Teamwork: Working collaboratively with other professionals and contributing to a multidisciplinary team. This includes respecting the roles and expertise of other team members and communicating effectively within the team.


10.  Client-Centered Practice: Focusing on the needs and goals of clients, advocating for their rights, and working collaboratively with them to achieve their objectives.


Appendix :


Social Work Education (CSWE)


Key to Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) 2015 Competencies and Associated Behaviors


Competency 1: Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior

1.     Make ethical decisions by applying the NASW Code of Ethics, relevant laws and regulations, models for ethical decision-making, ethical conduct of research, and apply other ethical codes as appropriate.

2.     Use reflection and self-regulation to manage personal values and maintain professionalism in practice situations.

3.     Demonstrate professional demeanor in behavior, appearance, and in oral, written, and electronic communication.

4.     Use technology ethically and appropriately to facilitate practice outcomes.

5.     Use supervision and consultation to guide professional judgment and behavior.


Competency 2: Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice

1.     Apply and communicate understanding of the importance of diversity and difference in shaping life experiences in practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

2.     Present themselves as learners and engage clients and constituencies as experts of their own experiences.

3.     Apply self-awareness and self-regulation to manage the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse clients and constituencies.


Competency 3: Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice

1.     Apply their understanding of social, economic, and environmental justice to advocate for human rights at the individual and system levels.

2.     Engage in practices that advance social, economic, and environmental justice.


Competency 4: Engage in Practice-informed Research and Research Informed Practice

1.     Use practice experience and theory to inform scientific inquiry and research.

2.     Apply critical thinking to engage in analysis of quantitative and qualitative research methods and research findings.

3.     Use and translate research evidence to inform and improve practice, policy, and service delivery.


Competency 5: Engage in Policy Practice

1.     Identify social policy at the local, state, and federal level that impacts wellbeing, service delivery, and access to social services.

2.     Assess how social welfare and economic policies impact the delivery of and access to social services.

3.     Apply critical thinking to analyze, formulate, and advocate for policies that advance human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice.


Competency 6: Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

1.     Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment, personin-environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretical frameworks to engage with clients and constituencies.

2.     Use empathy, reflection, and interpersonal skills to effectively engage diverse clients and constituencies.


Competency 7: Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

1.     Collect and organize data, and apply critical thinking to interpret information from clients and constituencies.

2.     Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment, personin-environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretic frameworks in the analysis of assessment data from clients and constituencies.

3.     Develop mutually agreed-on intervention goals and objectives based on the critical assessment of strengths, needs, and challenges within clients and constituencies.

4.     Select appropriate intervention strategies based on the assessment, research knowledge, and values and preferences of clients and constituencies.


Competency 8: Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

1.     Critically choose and implement interventions to achieve practice goals and enhance capacities of clients and constituencies.

2.     Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment, person in-environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretical frameworks in interventions with clients and constituencies.

3.     Use inter-professional collaboration as appropriate to achieve beneficial practice outcomes.

4.     Negotiate, mediate, and advocate with and on behalf of diverse clients and constituencies.

5.     Facilitate effective transitions and endings that advance mutually agreed on goals.


Competency 9: Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

1.     Select and use appropriate methods for evaluation of outcomes.

2.     Apply knowledge of human behavior and social environment, person-in-the environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretical frameworks in the evaluation of outcomes.

3.     Critically analyze, monitor, and evaluate intervention and program processes and outcomes.

4.     Apply evaluation findings to improve practice effectiveness at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.


“The Bologna Process”


The Bologna Process is a collective effort of public authorities, universities, teachers, and students, together with employer and quality assurance agencies, to create a European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Initiated in 1999 by the Declaration of Bologna by 29 European countries, it now includes 48 countries. The process aims to ensure more comparable, compatible, and coherent systems of higher education in Europe. Key aspects and goals of the Bologna Process include:


1.     Harmonization of Degree Structure: The process introduced the three-cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate) common to all countries, aiming to make degrees and study periods more comparable and compatible across Europe.


2.     Quality Assurance: It emphasizes the development of consistent quality assurance standards and guidelines to ensure high education standards and facilitate trust and recognition of degrees and other qualifications.


3.     Recognition of Qualifications: The Bologna Process promotes the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and the Diploma Supplement to enhance the transparency and recognition of qualifications and periods of study.


4.     Student Mobility: One of the main goals is to increase student mobility by removing obstacles to studying abroad. This is seen as key to fostering international cooperation and understanding among future professionals.


5.     Lifelong Learning: The process recognizes lifelong learning as an essential part of the higher education landscape. It encourages countries to ensure that their education systems consider the broader learning context.


6.     Employability: Improving the employability of graduates through the modernization and high-quality of education systems is a priority. The alignment of higher education with the job market’s needs is crucial.


7.     Social Dimension: The Bologna Process also focuses on the social aspect, including the equitable access and completion of studies by students from various backgrounds. It aims to ensure that the EHEA’s benefits are distributed fairly.


Impact on Social Work Education:

In the field of social work, the Bologna Process has significant implications:


1.     Standardization: It helps in standardizing the qualifications for social workers across participating countries, making it easier for professionals to work in different European countries.


2.     Mobility: Social work students can benefit from increased opportunities for study and internships abroad, gaining broader experiences and perspectives.


3.     Curriculum Development: The process encourages higher education institutions to continuously update their curriculum and teaching methods to meet the international standards and needs of the labor market.


4.     Research and Collaboration: Enhanced cooperation between institutions can lead to more collaborative research and sharing of best practices in social work education and practice.


References :


Baikady, R. (Ed.). (2022). The routledge handbook of field work education in social work (Ser. Routledge handbooks). Routledge.


Field, P., Jasper, C., & Littler, L. (2016). Practice education in social work : achieving professional standards (Second, Ser. Critical skills for social work). Critical Publishing.


Royse, D. D., Dhooper, S. S., & Badger, K. (2017). Field instruction : a guide for social work students (Seventh). Waveland Press.