Course aims to tackle social woes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2007, 12:00am

Social workers are starting to play a bigger role in Hong Kong - a city in the grip of rising domestic violence and family tragedies.

In October this year, a depressed mother threw her two children out of a flat window before jumping to her death in Tin Shui Wai, a troubled new town in Yuen Long.

There have been other cases of family tragedies and one reason for this, according to social welfare groups, is a shortage of qualified social workers in Hong Kong. The government recently pledged to hire more, but there is growing unrest among social workers, who have complained of a heavy workload and being underpaid.

To increase the numbers and relieve pressure on hard-pressed social workers, tertiary institutions, such as the Hong Kong Baptist University, are offering a master's degree in social sciences.

Shirley Hung Suet-lin, assistant professor of the programme, said: 'We offer the programme to meet demand from society and students. Many Baptist University graduates hope to further their studies in a school environment that they are familiar with. Other universities offer a three-year programme while we offer a two-year course with no summer holidays to shorten the time. It is a little short-cut for students who want to graduate as soon as possible.

'There are other local universities offering similar programmes, so we consider ourselves latecomers. We really want our graduates to work as social workers so we give priority to applicants who are committed to social work,' Dr Hung said.

Applicants for the course come from three categories. There are social workers who want to upgrade their qualifications, others who hold non-social work posts in welfare organisations but want to switch to social work, and those who have no experience in social work but want to change careers because they realise that it is what they want to do.

Dr Hung said social work was all about facilitating change in individuals, or society, such as boosting one's confidence and enhancing relations with others. She said the greatest strength of the programme was the focus on teaching students how to marry social work and academic theories.

'The programme started in September this year. The maximum intake for the programme is 40,' Dr Hung said.

Zoe Lam Siu-yin is a social worker with a social science degree and she hopes to upgrade her qualifications through the course.

'I specialise in family counselling and sometimes I think the things that I have learnt in my undergraduate degree are not enough for me to help my clients. This master's degree gives me much more in-depth knowledge in therapy skills, techniques and concepts,' she said

Ms Lam said that she chose to study the programme at Baptist University because of the shorter duration and the great study environment.

'We have quite a small class. The interaction between students and teachers is great,' she said.

Yu Yuk-pun, secretary of the Christian Fellowship of Pastoral Care for Youth, said he took the course to be a registered social worker.

'My first degree was social policy, then I studied a master's in criminology, but both are degrees from Taiwan universities which are not recognised in Hong Kong. I took the course to get recognised qualifications and be familiar with the situation in Hong Kong. 'I think that the course focuses a lot on application which is great. Lecturers will use role-play and cases to teach us to apply theories to real-life cases,' Mr Yu said.

He said he chose Baptist University because of its quality professors and high recommendations from his lecturers at the Taiwan universities.

'Another reason is that my wife is a Baptist University graduate so it gives me a sense of belonging,' he said.

Leax Leung Sze-man works in the human resource management field and she has a bachelor of business administration degree majoring in marketing and a master's in counselling.

'My job in the human resource department involves a lot of communicating and helping employees or interviewing candidates. This master's degree will help enhance my human relations skills,' she said.

Ms Leung said another local university had accepted her but she chose Baptist University because she thought it had a more human touch.

Students attend two nights of lessons each week, usually on week days, and they also need to do 800 hours of field work during the two years of study. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree from a recognised university, or a qualification that is deemed to be equivalent.