Students in the Department of Sociology and Population Studies who are enrolled in the Social Work programme always participate in mandatory field placements and observations during their first, second, and fourth years of study at the University of Malawi. During these field placements, the department relies on field supervisors to guide and assist the students with their learning. With sponsorship from a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project called Strengthening Social Welfare Workforce Through In-Service Training, UNIMA recently organized Social Work Practice Educators (PE) Training for participants from across the country.

From 20th to 24th May 2024, over 25 trainees from partner institutions across the country attended the workshop at the Liwonde Community Development Training Centre, where they were equipped with various skills by social work experts, both local and international. The workshop was facilitated by Professor Janet Walker from Lincoln University, Dr. Simon Cauvain from Nottingham Trent University, and staff members from the University of Malawi, including Mr. Austin Ndala, the Social Work programme coordinator; Ms. Tiwonge Munthali, the Placement Coordinator; Ms. Agnes Kambala, a lecturer in the department; and Ms. Esnart Nkhoma from Magomero Community Development College.

During the training, presenters delivered presentations that tackled various issues, including practice reflection, power relations during field supervision, and handling difficult situations during placements. Mr. Austin Ndala extended gratitude to USAID for their support and mentioned that these trainings have been conducted annually since 2015. He emphasized that field supervisors are trained to deliver supportive learning tasks to UNIMA students, highlighting the importance of such trainings.

He commended the training as a success, saying, “We indeed reached the target number of trainees we planned for this year. We also used the forum to get feedback from our partners on how we can improve the program and even made research collaborations”.

Since the inception of the Social Work program at the University of Malawi, the institution has maintained a strong collaborative relationship with Midland State University, Lincoln University, and Nottingham Trent University. This collaboration involves research, practice, and education at various levels.

Ms. Larah Mbewe, a field officer at Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), expressed satisfaction with the training. She stated, “During the four-day training on practice educators, I learned how we can prepare for students during the placement period, how we can orient them once they arrive at our organization, and how best we can work with them.” She continued by saying that the training will assist her in providing essential skills to students placed at her organization. She is now aware of what the students expect and how the university wants them to be supported.

“In the past, I was supervising students without knowing all the expectations of me as a practice educator. I’m now trained and fully aware of what happens and what’s expected of me. I will be able to train the students in the right way,” she concluded.

The training concluded with a certificate presentation to all the trainees and facilitators who participated throughout the workshop.