Scenario #3
Reflecting on the role of human rights in the framework of university classes on social work

Reflecting on the role of human rights in the framework of university classes on social work

Aims / objectives

The aim of the method is to encourage young trainees (students in social work and social policy) to think in terms of social work based on human rights. At its core is an appreciation of universal principles such as the equality of all human beings, inherent dignity, the right to self-determination and living in peace and security. In this approach, social workers are not just “agents of the state” but become “agents of exchange”.

Description of the method

This educational approach is used in classes by a lecturer from the University of Gdansk, Dr. Marcin Boryczko, during teaching human rights in the context of social work. In particular, three methods of teaching have proved fruitful among his students.

Action research, based on the following activities to be undertaken successively by students:

  • Select a social group, a group of people (possibly a person) whose human rights have been restricted, violated or denied;
  • Describe the situation of this group through micro, meso and macro level analysis. While doing so, consider: In what sense are their human rights violated? What rights have been violated?
  • Then, try to answer these questions: What should be done to change the situation of this group? What goals should be pursued? Are these goals consistent with international documents defining the protection of human rights? Do the objectives comply with Polish law? What kind of limitations stand in the way of realising the goals formulated in this way?
  • When planning the intervention modalities, the student should consider the following suggestions/additional questions:
    • We usually deal with multiple issues of human rights violations in one case. Which issues and objectives do you consider to be priorities?
    • How can you respond in this particular situation as a social worker based on human rights?
    • Plan a real (can be virtual) action that aims to achieve the goals you have set for yourself in relation to tackling human rights violations.

Based on the above, the student should prepare a paper/presentation consisting of the following elements:

  • description of the strategy of action,
  • explanation how the action was performed,
  • presentation of documentation of the action,
  • description of effects.

Case study analysis (Multi-Level):

In this assignment, the student is given a case description of a situation of a person with social problems or of a situation related to the whole community. In relation to this case, the student is asked to reflect on how to intervene in this situation and to describe his/her conclusions by answering the questions:

  • What human rights issues were raised in this case study?
  • How would you respond as a social worker who works in a social care centre?

Writing an essay based on a critical reflection method:

The aim of this assignment is to produce and apply professional knowledge based on the analysis of a critical incident that occurred during a student's internship or the professional work of those participating in the course. While working on their assigned essay, students are asked to explore their preconceptions about educational knowledge and social work practices through critical thinking. This type of thinking is one of the more highly valued competences in this field of education, which aims, among other things, to promote human rights or ideas of social justice (Havig, 2013).

This work is based on a model of critical deconstruction of experience (based on Jan Fook, 2002, “Critical Deconstruction and Reconstruction”, p. 96) consisting of four stages:

  • Critical deconstruction, or the search for contradictions, diverse perspectives and interpretations;
  • Resistance, consisting of a refusal to accept and participate in various aspects of dominant discourses that disempower people and sometimes make the situation hopeless;
  • The challenge of identifying in defining the existence and operation of hidden, mystified or preconceived discourses;
  • Reconstruction, based on the formulation of a new discourse, leading to narrative as well as structural change.

Usability in social work

The method is used to train future social workers. It allows them to become aware of their own prejudices and stereotypes and then to look at the future recipients of their support from a different angle, respecting their human rights. It also helps young professionals to develop self-reflection and critical thinking skills and enhance their tolerant attitudes. By increasing the awareness of future social workers for the practical application of human rights and on socio-cultural diversity, it also helps to familiarise them with the RFCDC competences.


Name of the method

Reflecting on the role of human rights in the framework of university classes on social work

Target group

Social and youth workers / students


Few weeks (to be carried out during subsequent university classes)

Spatial requirements

Practice room and own work (possibly in small groups)


Critical understanding of the self, critical thinking, tolerance


Awareness about the role of human rights in daily social work

Method description

Participants reflect on how particular human rights can be applied to the situations they can face as social workers and, later on, try to find solutions to those situations which are based on the application of these laws; at the same time, identify and redefine stereotypes held, including about the future recipients of their professional activities

Social work context

Useful for social and youth workers in their training


Various case studies descriptions taken from social work practice


No special risks

Concept / application

Used and applied by Dr. Marcin Boryczko from University of Gdansk during teaching human rights in the context of social work


Marcin Boryczko (2020), “Critical thinking in social work education. A case study of knowledge practices in students’ reflective writings using semantic gravity profiling”, Social Work Education, DOI: 10.1080/02615479.2020.1836143;

Jan Fook (2002), “Critical Deconstruction and Reconstruction”, in: idem, „Social Work: A Critical Approach to Practice“

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