The Gap in Social Work Field Practice in Namibia

Namibia is rated among the top three countries in Africa in terms of social protection measures (the other two are South Africa and Zimbabwe). 

It has a solid legal framework for social welfare systems in terms of the Social Work and Psychology Act (2004), and the Social Work and Psychology Council (SWPC), established under the same act.  

SWPC is a subsidiary of the Health Professions Councils of Namibia (HPCNA), which oversees and regulates all the country’s health professions. 

The SWPC prohibits practising social work without registration, regulates the registration and practice of social work professionals and students, protects the public against malpractice from social work professionals, sets standards for social work education and requirements in the country and abroad, among others. 

However, the profession does not have national guidelines or a framework to regulate field practice supervision, as is the case with neighbouring South Africa and the likes of the US, UK, Sweden, and Israel, for instance.


Field practice in social work is the equivalent of Work Integrated Learning  (WIL) or Work Integrated Education (WIE).  

A bachelor’s degree programme in social work training globally, including Namibia, has a mandatory requirement for extended practical attachments (field practice) for students, overseen by registered social workers (aka field supervisors) through field supervision.

In the case of the University of Namibia’s bachelor’s degree (honours programme) in social work, field practice starts from the first year with 28 hours of job shadowing, 30 hours of block practicum in the second year, 112 hours of community service in the thirrd year and a whole six months of practical placement in a workplace throughout the fourth and final year of studies. 

At Unam, a social work graduate would have gone through 720 hours of field learning by the time they exit the institution, a process that helps social work graduates obtain employment easily at home and abroad.  

A social work intern is required to register with the HPCNA from their first year of study, and be issued with a registration number, before they start interacting with clients.


Field supervision is specialised and a serious function in social work education. 

As such, a field supervisor can ethically be held accountable by the Health Professions Council of Namibia for the work a student social worker undertakes. Thus, a field supervisor must be a registered social worker and must strictly guide a student intern.  

Moreover, a field supervisor must conduct student’s final assessment, thus helping universities determine an intern’s readiness to graduate.  

This is in addition to their normal duties, which mostly includes managerial and administrative functions, making them wearers of many hats simultaneously. 

A recent analysis of field supervisors’ experiences in Namibia, undertaken by myself, revealed that field supervisors receive little to no prior training in field supervision, grapple with high workloads, are not fully aware of the supervisory models/theories associated with student supervision, struggle to navigate the gap between theory and practice, and are unhappy that there is almost no recognition of this role as a specialised function.  

Another concerning finding in the corporate sector, although only mentioned by 10% of respondents, was the practice of non-social work practitioners, such as psychologists, supervising social work interns, a practice which is completely against the Social Work and Psychology Act.


The 21st century is one of the most uncertain times in history. Covid-19 is a reminder of what uncertainty is like and why, in the social work profession, interns need to be prepared to deal with uncertainty and risks in the life politics of clients. 

Field practice is a real testing ground, a space where students face the rawness of problems that exist in society.

In a country such as Namibia, that is ravaged by many social ills – such as gender-based violence, high suicide rates and attempts, substance abuse, youth unrest and high unemployment rates as well as high income disparities – field practice becomes even more crucial to prepare a well-armed workforce to tackle these issues from a proactive developmental and preventative approach in the  welfare service delivery.

Since independence, the social work profession has expanded exponentially from being housed under the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) to six more government ministries, many state-owned agencies, United Nations agencies, institutions of higher learning, the corporate and private sectors, including social workers in private practice.  

This expansion signifies appreciation of the profession yet also causes uncertainties as responsibilities are now shared across various sectors. 

Moreover, it demands a coordinated response to quality-assured field practice standards. 

A 1996 social welfare policy draft initiated by the MoHSS needs to move beyond its current status quo.  

Which sector should spearhead the development of social service policies or frameworks? 

Should it be left to a single sector, a combination of many, or to the overarching regulatory body, specifically the HPCNA?

Ethical, competent, innovative and effective graduates are highly dependent on the quality of their field practice experiences and the competencies of field supervisors. 

Therefore, a supervisory framework or, better yet, a social welfare policy and national guidelines with clear provisions on student supervision standards of practice is urgently needed.

– Lovisa K Nghipandulwa is an industrial social work specialist, and an Industry Relations and Cooperative Education Practitioner at the University of Namibia. She writes in her  personal capacity

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