Developing Social Work in Vietnam: Issues in Professional Education

Developing Social Work in Vietnam: Issues in Professional Education

After many decades of war and struggle, Vietnam is now emerging as a modern and sophisticated Asian nation. With the political and economic changes of the last two decades in particular, social problems that were obscured in the period of national reunification have been revealed, resulting in a new interest in the profession of social work and its education. In order to understand social work education in Vietnam, it is necessary to place it within the wider history of the profession as a whole.

Vietnamese social work has followed a distinct path, which is inevitably bound up with the modern history of the country. For the purposes of this discussion, it will be helpful to divide the recent past into four periods: before the reunification of the country in 1975; before the introduction of the doi moi economic reform policies in the mid-1980s; the introduction of social work as a subject within other degree programmes in the time around 1990; and the authorisation of the social work degree core curriculum in October 2004.

During the period of division and war between the North and the South of Vietnam, two very different approaches to social welfare were followed (Nguyen Thi Oanh, 2002). In the North, the socialist system emphasised mutual care within families and communities. An expectation that citizens would assist fellow citizens was the foundation of welfare in this emerging state; the ‘good neighbour’ was the lynchpin of this approach. It was believed that social problems were the inevitable products of capitalism and that as socialism developed more fully these would fade away. Mass organisations, such as the Youth Union and the Women’s Union, were responsible for provision of social welfare services.1 In the countryside, rural cooperatives were to ensure that medical services, childcare and other programmes were available to their constituents. In the pre-1975 era in the North, social work education started with the Ministry of Social Relief (now the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs) in the form of 10–15 day workshops. However, the content mostly focused on the introduction of the Communist Party’s Guidelines, new social policies and decrees on social relief. Subsequently it was expanded to three months and provided for the heads and vice heads of district social relief divisions (Nguyen Tiep et al., 2007).

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In contrast, in the South before 1975 a more formal system of welfare had developed with professional social workers having a role in children’s services, health and so on. These social workers were either expatriates from Europe, North America and Australasia, or were Vietnamese trained within programmes mostly sponsored by European and American organisations. Services were provided by the former government or non-profit organisations, including religious and foreign associations. Most of the funding came from abroad. After national reunification, these programmes ceased or were taken over by the new government, such as the institutional care programmes. So in the period following 1975 the northern approach to social welfare and to social work prevailed.

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