With partners from both here and abroad, Dr. Gien is helping to establish a master of social work program in a country where thousands of social workers will be part of a much needed solution to social issues over the next decade.
Dr. Gien and her team are building on a previous project that wrapped up in 2008, “Poverty reduction by improving social services and health” which saw the first bachelor of social work program established at the University of Labor and Social Affairs (ULSA) in Hanoi.
“For a country where social work is a relatively new concept, this success was remarkable,” commented Dr. Gien. “But in 2005, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs commissioned a national study to assess the need for qualified social workers in Vietnam. They found that in the next ten years, the country would need about 58,000 social workers, of whom more than 15,000 would be trained at the university level.” Part of this need is fueled by the rapid economic growth, which in turn, has led to some social challenges (see sidebar).
But those future social workers need teachers and that’s where Vietnam falls short. “More than 40 universities throughout Vietnam are educating future social workers, using the core bachelor of social work curriculum that came from the first project. But there are not enough qualified faculty to teach them. Currently they are taught by teachers with backgrounds in sociology, psychology, political sciences, economics or law,” noted Dr. Gien, who has teamed up with Dr. Nguyen Tiep, an associate professor and rector at ULSA, as well as faculty from the School of Social Work at Memorial (Dr. Ken Barter, Dr. Sharon Taylor, and Dr. Douglas Durst) and from the University of Regina, in addition to several team members from Vietnam.
In this latest project, the researchers are hoping to alleviate the acute shortage of social work teachers, by collaborating once again with ULSA to establish the master of social work program. With $300,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the team is hoping this latest project will extend the national impacts of the base project, enabling ULSA to further contribute to the improvement of health and social equity for disadvantaged groups.
“Graduates with a masters in social work will become the leaders in social work practice and education. They can supervise practitioners, organize and implement continuing education and training, provide community outreach through ULSA's social work practice centre established in the base project, and assist with field placements for undergraduate students,” commented Dr. Gien. The project will also create opportunities for two instructors at ULSA, who have a MSW, to enter a social work doctorate program outside of Vietnam to further research, build knowledge and provide support and leadership.
And Dr. Gien believes she has an advantage that will help this project see the same success as the first. “Working with international projects, it’s very important to know the language and culture of the country and I have that advantage with Vietnam. So, I can use local knowledge to better facilitate understanding between our partners and implement activities more smoothly.”