Introduction: The Pandemic that Shook Social Work Education
COVID-19 strode onto an unsuspecting world in December 2019 and turned it upside-down. Millions of people caught the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-COV-2 and millions died. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020. By 30 October 2021, the coronavirus had reached 247,076,814 cases and killed 5,009,470 (worldometers.info). These figures continue to rise as vaccines are not universally available. Existing structural inequalities were exacerbated as economies throughout the world were devastated. But it was the poorest people in countries, rich and poor, that felt its devastation most. Food insecurity, loss of income, loss of loved ones, loss of relationships, loss of freedom to associate with others through lockdown accounted for only some of the havoc COVID-19 visited on societies. Every institution was affected from the government to the family. Social work education was no exception.
An international survey undertaken through IASSW in 2020 highlighted many issues experienced by educators when working from home and the challenges faced while delivering social work education to students in sometimes hastily convened and newly formed online settings in private dwellings (Wallengren-Lynch, Dominelli & Cuadra, 2021). The survey also highlighted the unequal impact of digital technologies on students’ educational experience, with many juggling costs such as data purchases and heating incurred in learning from home. However, this survey does not tell the whole story, and more research is needed to capture the full ingenuity with which people responded to their now unrecognizable world. Greater in-depth exploration is needed to gain a better understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected social work education and the experiences of its multiple stakeholders at home, in practice, in the community and in service delivery. This special edition of the Social Dialogue Magazine provides an opportunity for us to share a range of experiences depicting the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity and begin a conversation of the lessons we can learn from this catastrophic event to prepare better for potential future ones.
Thus, the Autumn 2021 issue explores what academics, practice educators, students and service users involved in higher education have to say about responding to COVID-19’s impact on their work, learning and teaching. In this edition, Debby and Catherine, from Australia and Ireland, present a methodology that aims to help make students feel more connected to each other during online learning. Patrícia from Brazil offers some of the challenges for social work education during COVID-19. Natalie and Diane from Canada provide us with insights into being doctorate students and the importance of peer support during COVID-19. Junko, Atsuski, Minako and Masakazu write about the experiences and responses of social work educators and national organisations in Japan during the pandemic. From India, we have two papers. One written by Sheeja, Shinto and Alan from Bangalore, present examples of social work institutions, educators and students reaching into the community to provide psycho-social support. Mary Angeline and Tryphosa from Chennai provide examples of social work educators interventions from an eco-social work framework. Jingyi from China writes about an innovative approach to grief counselling, while Charles and Johnston, also from that country, argue for the relevance of flipped classroom pedagogy in online settings. The following two articles come from social work students. In the first, Paige and her fellow students write about their work on an IASSW sponsored research project on journaling. In the second, Ana and her fellow students from the United Kingdom present findings from students experiences during COVID-19. A service user perspective is provided by Imogen and Alex in a short paper outlining service user involvement in a social work course in the United Kingdom. In the penultimate paper, Riccardo from Italy outlines the responses of various social work institutions in that country during the pandemic. This special edition finishes with a paper from Chaitali and Anastasia from Germany, reflecting on online teaching challenges and opportunities during a pandemic.
These authors represent eleven different countries using three different languages as their primary one.
These authors’ writing highlights the creativity and compassionate action that educators from different part of the globe have undertaken in reaching beyond the university's walls and into the community. It exemplifies adaptive pedagogies that help students foster critical perspectives whilst sitting in online settings. Additionally, students themselves reflect on their experiences of social work education and research during a global pandemic. By capturing important stakeholder knowledges through the inclusion of students' voices and stories of service user involvement in social work education, their creative insights can contribute to curriculum development and pedagogic innovations for future use.
We hope that this edition will reinforce a sense of pride in the resilience of social work education and highlight its strengths in meeting societal and global challenges orchestrated through the spread of an infectious disease throughout the planet.