Look into mental health needs of lecturers

BEING meticulous is one thing. Being overzealous is another matter altogether, especially in today’s context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s certainly trying times for many Malaysians today. With over 4,000 cases reported on Saturday, who knows what’s going to happen next to you or your loved ones? Yes! Many in the private sector have been affected by the loss of jobs and reduced incomes. But what about mental stress levels? Is that issue being handled well or professionally by employers or human resource departments? Surely there’s a clarion call for this crucial issue to be addressed, especially among those who are dutifully continuing to work to sustain their jobs with their best of their abilities.

One industry where the mental stress level has certainly made its mark is in the private higher education industry. As the pandemic increases, it is likely a certainty that classes will be conducted online. Undeniably, student recruitment – via online – is crucial for private institutions to increase their coffers. But does moving lessons online mean there has to be ridiculous, overzealous and over-ambitious SOPs purely to meet student expectations? What about staff welfare and mental well-being?

Some of the SOPs include a gamut of activities, from engaging with games, to pre-recorded lessons, to detailed accounts of what the lecturer is teaching. All these collectively affects the mental wellbeing of lecturers. One must realise not all academics are adept at using the latest technology – in fact, some fear using it. A day or two training does not help either!

It has been reported that academics in Britain have described the Covid-19 pandemic as nightmarish, saying that it has triggered soaring anxiety levels, exhaustion and fear, driving many to consider quitting and even self-harm. Thus far, such extreme cases have not been reported locally – but are we waiting for this to happen?

One wonders where are the United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Goals in this equation? Especially goals Three and Eight, which includes ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages and decent work respectively.

No doubt SOPs are needed to maintain the quality of accredited programmes or to ensure Malay-sian Qualification Assurance accreditation requirements are met, but does it have to always be so meticulous and rigorous? There could obviously be some leeway given, especially in stressful times like these. Just imagine, in between having children at home all the time, household chores and working from home, there’s a huge dark cloud between work and family time, even on the weekends. Perhaps stringent SOPs may work in normal times but during these abnormal times there should be more flexibility.

In fact, staring at the computer the whole day in itself is harmful. And despite seamless connectivity, there are many pitfalls. This includes miscommunication and the much dreaded “little Napoleon” syndrome. What a contrast to European universities where the European University Association has taken a balanced approach in terms of civic engagement with all stakeholders, including staff. The top-down approach in communication here simply has to change.

ReachOut Australia, the world’s first online mental health service provider has stated succinctly: “Teachers regularly have to juggle many competing demands. As a result, they can easily put other people’s mental health and wellbeing needs ahead of their own. However, it’s important that teachers take the time to prioritise their own mental health and well-being, for their benefit and that of the whole school community.

“Mental health and well-being activities for teachers should be ongoing and holistic. Embedding self-care activities such as physical activity, catching up with friends, and setting boundaries around work can support teachers to improve and maintain their personal well-being.”

The question is, with over-arching and arduous SOPs, can this be achieved here? It’s time for private higher education institutions in Malaysia to take a step back, reflect and look into proactive and inclusive measures for staff mental wellbeing.DISTRAUGHT


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