Professor A. Ka Tat Tsang and his colleagues have experienced “that rare historical moment – to create something out of nothing,” and in doing so, to profoundly affect the lives of millions of people.
In 1997, when Prof. Tsang became director of the China Project – a collaboration of the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and China – the country had less than two dozen social work education programs for its population of 1.2 billion, who were living through unprecedented economic and social change.
“Today, China has over 300 social work programs and one million practitioners are carrying out functions that would be regarded as social work or social services in the west. Personally and professionally, that is very satisfying,” says Prof. Tsang, an associate professor of social work and the Factor-Inwentash Chair in Social Work in the Global Community at the University of Toronto.
With the communist government’s introduction of a market economy during the 1980s and 1990s – bringing private enterprise and competition to replace previously government-owned and operated farms, banks, manufacturing and other industries – social problems that were “striking and scary for the Chinese authorities” turned many people’s lives upside down. Issues included massive layoffs across state-owned enterprises, huge numbers of migrants moving from the rural areas to the cities, extreme poverty, crime, marriage breakdown, mental health problems, substance abuse and public health concerns.
The China Project was launched to develop social work practice, education and research to address the unique challenges faced by the Chinese people.The project’s first phase focused on developing social work education. The second phase will continue into the future to create high quality service in various areas of social work practice in China.
A Canadian-based arm of the project aims to improve service standards and accessibility for Chinese and other immigrant populations. “Because of language and cultural barriers, many immigrants to Canada are not receiving the basic essential services that they need. There are disadvantages in labour market participation, housing and medical care.”
As the world becomes a global village, an international approach to social work not only makes sense, “it’s a matter of survival,” says Prof. Tsang. “Our University of Toronto social work students will increasingly work with a global population, so it is important that we embrace a truly global vision and perspective. Being global is in our DNA. I am very glad the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work has chosen this as one of its strategic directions. It’s a meaningful, significant and positive step.”