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article 16 author image

Lena Dominelli University of Stirling, United Kingdom

article 16 author image

Michael Wallengren-Lynch University of Malmö, Sweden

The Pandemic that Shook Social Work Education: Conclusion

Disasters are increasing in intensity and duration (Dominelli, 2012). Health pandemics are fitting this pattern as the time between them is decreasing, and their range is becoming more widespread (WWF, 2020). This reality is concerning because the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that humanity was poorly prepared for its repercussions. Not only did people lack immunity against it, but the dominance of national solutions and withdrawal into the nation-state meant that opportunities to extend social solidarity to others failed, especially when it finally came to sharing vaccines between those who developed and stockpiled them for their populations and those who were denied access to them because nation-states failed to deliver adequate quantities to COVAX, the United Nations vehicle for distributing supplies equitably across the globe. Even late in 2021, despite the efforts of elder statemen like Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the UK, leading the initiative from his hometown in Scotland, who has argued eloquently for rich nations to give over their excess supplies now that their populations have received their second, and in many cases, third vaccinations to those who have yet to receive one, vaccine nationalism prevails. And it is mainly the poor people of the world who are suffering and dying from this dreaded disease.

The stories narrated in this issue of Social Dialogue provide more optimism than this bleak scenario. In these, students and lecturers have worked together, being kind to each other, and seeking to support one another in acquiring the technologies and other resources necessary to enable students to receive as much of their education as possible in extremely difficult circumstances. Other students formed support networks with other students, whether it was in doctoral programs, or in journaling sessions with other qualifying students to facilitate peer support to learn from each other and exchange materials. Additionally, such networks reduced the social isolation endemic to working from home, and enabled some students to maintain their emotional well-being in trying circumstances. Despite these initiatives which were valued and appreciated by all those involved, many students and staff found the demands of home schooling, working within the formerly private sphere of the home, coping with the demands of caring for others, and ensuring that the demands of their paid job were met incredibly challenging. Also, some universities were better than others at supporting their students and staff and such differentiated experiences succeeded in reinforcing already existing inequalities, especially structural ones emanating from poverty and oppression. Interestingly in these, students supporting other students often provided much needed relief from oppressive situations.

Creativity seems to have featured in most of the narratives recounted in these pages, and service users and practice educators found ways of ensuring that placements were experienced as far as could be arranged for students who found their studies truncated by COVID-19. Nonetheless, despite heroic endeavours to make internships (placements) as valid and as close to person-to-person engagement as possible, the generations of students adversely impacted by the pandemic will have certain ‘people’ skills missing as these could not be acquired through remote technologies, especially in complicated cases requiring face-to-face interventions to establish ‘the facts’ with regards to safeguarding issues for both children and adults. The digital skills developed through their experience of online learning are important for future learning scenarios, but do not compensate for these. Finally, most authors felt that while remote technologies will continue to feature in the post-COVID-19 world, they are looking forward to resuming people-to-people interactions in both the academy and the field. Their narratives provide much food for thought in moving towards more resilient and adaptive educational provisions in the future.