Advancing Pacific Social Work Symposium


Dr Tracie Mafile’o from Massey University’s School of Social Work, has organised the first Pacific-wide symposium on social work.


For the first time, a Pacific region-wide gathering designed specifically to address Pacific social work, will be held in Fiji next week.

The Advancing Pacific Social Work Symposium, organised by Massey University, in collaboration with The University of the South Pacific and Western Sydney University, is a forum for Pacific social work educators, policy makers and practitioners from across the region to share practices and perspectives for developing social work education in the South Pacific region.

Event organiser Dr Tracie Mafile’o from Massey’s School of Social Work says indigenous knowledges are recognised in the global definition of social work, yet culturally relevant social work education in the South Pacific has had limited attention.

“This is the first Oceania/South Pacific region gathering specifically to address Pacific social work. New social issues are emerging in the Pacific, tied to regional and global conditions – such as climate change, urban unemployment or child health. Pacific social work embraces local indigenous knowledges and uses cultural strengths to engage with individual, families, communities and their environments to work towards social justice and wellbeing. This event will help build a dynamic community of social work educators and will inform Pacific social work curricula, pedagogy and upscaling in the Pacific and the Pacific diaspora, including New Zealand.”

A Moana Collaborative Inquiry Group and Pacific social work text writing workshop will take place the following day as a way to take the learnings from the symposium forward through research and publication avenues.

Including speakers from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand (including Massey University, Otago University, Whitireia New Zealand, UNITEC Institute of Technology and Te Wananga o Aotearoa) social work education providers, the four panel discussions taking place during the one-day symposium topics cover:

Indigenous Knowledges in Pacific Social Work

Indigenous knowledges ought to be a basis for Pacific social work education curriculum and pedagogy. The South Pacific includes a great deal of language and cultural diversity, and the impacts of post-colonialism and globalisation amplify the need for social development which is relevant to Pacific contexts. This panel will critically discuss indigenous Pacific knowledges as frameworks and foundations for Pacific social work education and practice. Panelists examine the challenges and prospects of building social work education on Pacific indigenous knowledges given local, regional and global contexts and developments.

Minimum Standards

Social and community work in the Pacific is a developing profession in most of the island countries. There have been varying educational and training programmes. Graduates of these programmes are using the title of social worker, community worker and counsellor, whereas in metropolitan countries of the West these are competing for separate professional status. This panel will address the question of what should be the core personal, interpersonal and cognitive capabilities, and role-specific and generic competencies, that qualify people to be recognised and registered as professional social and community workers in the Pacific.

Field Education in the Pacific

Supporting field education opportunities to enhance social work teaching and learning is vital to developing an emerging professional practitioner. Part of this commitment includes working collaboratively with local agencies and stakeholders to ensure positive outcomes. This panel will profile the experience of field educators and field supervisors in supporting students in Pacific social work, reflecting on models of good practice across the Pacific.

Research in Pacific Social Work

Social work research is generally underpinned by a focus to appropriately apply findings and recommendations in a practical manner. Such outputs and outcomes may positively influence social policy, models of service provision and delivery, and the work undertaken with individuals and families. However, for social work research to truly resonate with its intended objectives, it is important that appropriate methodologies and methods are utilised.

There will also be a symposium dinner on March 28, at which the Pacific Regional Resource Centre will be launched. “This is another International Association of Schools of Social Work project, and is the second in the Asia Pacific Region, the other being in China. The centres are to help build capacity in areas of the world where social work educating needs to be built up,” Dr Mafile’o says.

Massey University is leading this project, with partner institutions Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, The University of the South Pacific, Western Sydney University and Whitireia New Zealand.

Over a three-year period, the project aims to:

  • Develop and promote excellence in Pacific social work education, research and scholarship
  • Create and maintain a dynamic community of Pacific social work educators and extend the opportunities and uptake of postgraduate qualifications and research in Pacific social work
  • Support and facilitate participation in mutual exchange of information and expertise on indigenous Pacific social work
  • Enhance the contribution of Pacific voices in international social work forums

For more information on the Advancing Pacific Social Work Symposium, click here.

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