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What is Social Work All About?

"What is Social Work All About?" 

By Elsie Lee

Head of Diploma in Social Work programme

Methodist College Kuala Lumpur


What Is Social Work?

Social work is an academic discipline underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities, indigenous knowledge, and a value framework of human rights and social justice. Social work is a practised-based profession focused on engaging with individuals, families, groups, communities, organisations and societies to improve social functioning, address life challenges and enhance well-being. It is also practised at administrative levels of social development, policy and planning, research and legislation in both government and non-government organisations to manage psychosocial problems and needs of societies, especially of the vulnerable and marginalised populations. Social work education and research are offered in public universities in Malaysia.



Why Is It Important?

The increasing complexity of modern living poses a myriad of challenges for people in daily living as well as for communities and societies at large. There is a strong need to respond to those challenges with relevant professional knowledge, values and ethics, skills, and intervention methods to bring about positive outcomes or change in the individual, family, group, community, organisation and society. The social work profession embodies competency-based and ethical practice in its education and training of social work practitioners to minimise risks of inappropriate and ineffective services and harm to their clients or service users.



Who Can Be A Social Worker?

Generally, the public, and even some professionals and politicians, think anyone can be a social worker due to a misconception that a social worker is a “do-gooder”, a charity worker, a volunteer, or a philanthropist. Having a keen interest in helping people is a favourable start, but it requires more than that to be a professional social worker. Besides acquiring the professional knowledge, values, and skills of social work, having personal attributes like being patient and reflective, and a good listener with a non-judgemental attitude, accepting of differences and diversity, and open to new learning and experiences, will enhance professional practice.



Where Can Social Workers Practise?

The social work programme structure and syllabus prepare graduates for employment in various occupations which require working with people. Although the traditional fields of practice are in areas of social welfare such as child and family welfare, juvenile delinquency, disabilities, domestic violence, health and mental health, drugs and alcohol addiction, probation and prisons, qualified social workers can also work as caseworkers or mental health workers or human resource personnel offering psychosocial support to factory or industrial workers. Trained social workers may find their niche in becoming social advocates or activists to support a social cause or human rights issues, or becoming administrators or managers of social work organisations. Those with postgraduate degrees may opt to join the academic line and teach social work courses or focus on social research work. Social workers also have important supportive roles to play during any form of crisis and trauma, as evidenced in disasters and calamities.



How Can One Become a Professional Social Worker?

Currently, there are six public universities offering bachelor and postgraduate degrees in social work. These are Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Universiti Utara Malaysia in Kedah, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi, Selangor, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak in Kuching, Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, and Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin in Terengganu. 2 other public universities are offering partial social work programmes, i.e. Social Administration and Social Justice at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur and Human Development at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Bangi. Admission to the bachelor programmes requires the STPM certificate.

There is only 1 Diploma in Social Work Programme in the country. It is being offered in the English medium at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, and while initially targeting working adults in government and non-government welfare organisations, it is also being offered to school-leavers who have a keen interest to make social work their career. Entrance to the programme requires three credits at SPM level. The Diploma is recognised as a fully accredited programme by the Malaysian Quality Agency (MQA/FA8500). It provides a pathway for graduates to go on to a bachelor degree in any of the public universities as well as some universities in foreign countries.



Moving Towards Enhancing Professionalism

The Malaysian Association of Social Workers was registered in 1974 (ROS 1387 Selangor). It has a local affiliation with Balai Ikhtisas Malaysia (BIM) and Majlis Kebangsaan Kebajikan dan Pembangunan Sosial Malaysia (MAKPEM). It is also a member of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and has representation on its Asia-Pacific Regional Executive Committee. Besides these, MASW members are active in the Asia-Pacific Social Work Education (APASWE) chapter of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), and the Commonwealth Organisation of Social Workers (COSW).

Acquiring a diploma or a degree in social work enables application for professional membership with the Malaysian Association of Social Workers. The Association is also working closely with the Department of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to promote social work as a profession through the drafting of a Social Work Profession Bill to be tabled in Parliament for endorsement. When the Bill is passed, it will provide for the establishment of a monitoring and regulating National Social Work Council. This will require qualified social workers to register and apply for a certificate to practise and thus enhance the image and status of social work as a profession.


If you would like to find out more about the Diploma in Social Work programme at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, please drop us an email at