Social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand: Advancing an equity agenda through democratising and decolonising policy, programmes and practice
AuthorMcNabb, David John
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 David John McNabb
Purpose The profession of social work has a long-standing commitment to addressing issues of equity and disadvantage. Giving effect to democratising and decolonising practices in social work education has nevertheless presented challenges for the discipline. An integrated three-part qualitative study was undertaken to consider how social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand operationalises its commitment to an equity agenda particularly through democratising and decolonising practices across three influencing domains: policies, programmes and practices. Methods Three mixed-method, qualitative waves of research were undertaken. A document analysis of the global, Aotearoa and Australian sets of social work education standards formed the first wave. This analysis raised questions about how the equity-based agenda, conceptualised in the twin themes of democratising and decolonising practices, was being operationalised in programmes and in teaching. In the second wave of research, interviews were undertaken with social work education leaders to examine how these two themes were being operationalised across programmes of social work education in Aotearoa. In the third wave of research, focus groups and interviews were undertaken with social work educators more broadly to examine how the equity themes were being operationalised in teaching practices in tertiary institutions in Aotearoa. Findings The findings from the first wave of research identified a number of equity themes, in particular: service user and student participation, student representativeness, indigenous rights and political action, gender and cultural equity, and equitable access for students. The findings from the document analysis specifically relating to democratising and decolonising practices informed Waves 2 and 3 of the research. In Wave 2, leaders identified opportunities for advancing democratising and decolonising practices across three spheres: first, by supporting students, including engaging with the student voice, maintaining systems of representation and creating a diverse student cohort; second, by recruiting, maintaining and supporting a diverse workforce and, in particular, developing an equity-focused workforce strategy to support these aims; and third, by using leadership to advance an equity-focused social work education. In Wave 3, social work educators highlighted the challenges in operationalising democratising and decolonising teaching and learning practices. In particular, they identified the importance of addressing issues of privilege: understanding settler and White privilege and the responsibility for addressing it in the classroom context; broader issues of privilege, including racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism and ageism, and the value of an intersectional approach; the relationship between regulation and privilege; and the importance of developing decolonising frameworks for practice. Conclusion This thesis highlights both the challenges and the opportunities for developing democratising and decolonising programmes and practices in social work education in Aotearoa. In giving effect to positive change, the findings of the thesis reinforce the importance of values-based policies and practices, particularly when exploring the complexities of navigating a bicultural social work education. A number of frameworks for action are presented, including a leadership framework identifying key enabling elements that are important to the creation of equity-based programmes, and a framework supporting teaching practices that are decolonising and Treaty based. The importance of advancing policy, programme and practice equity through positive activism is reinforced.
Keywordsdecolonisation; indigenous; indigenous rights; social work; social work education; educators; leadership; standards; regulation; Maori; Aotearoa New Zealand; Australia; Te Tiriti o Waitangi The Treaty of Waitangi; kaupapa Maori; white privilege; equity; social justice; critical theory; critical social work
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