STRESS AND COPING STRATEGIES AMONG DISTANCE EDUCATION .

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Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE July 2017 ISSN 1302-6488 Volume: 18 Number: 3 Article 8STRESS AND COPING STRATEGIESAMONG DISTANCE EDUCATION STUDENTSAT THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COAST, GHANADr. Christopher Yaw KWAAHFaculty of Educational Development and OutreachUniversity of Cape Coast, GhanaGabriel ESSILFIECollege of Distance EducationUniversity of Cape Coast, GhanaABSTRACTThis study was designed to identify the causes of stress and coping strategies adoptedamong distance education students at the College of Distance Education in the University ofCape Coast. A total of 332 diploma and post-diploma final year students in 2014/2015academic year were selected from two study centers using random sampling procedure torespond to self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaire which was adapted to suit thestudy context was pre-tested to ensure that it elicited valid response. The results of thestudy showed that ‘academic workload’, ‘high frequency of examinations’, ‘financialproblems’, family/marriage problems’ were the major causes of stress among the students.The study also found some statistical significant differences between married and unmarriedstudents with married students feeling more stressed with ‘financial problems’ and‘family/marriage problems’ than unmarried students. Students used multiple strategies,mainly praying/meditating, self-distracting activities such as watching TV and listening tomusic to cope with stress. Other important stress coping strategies were emotional andinstrumental support from family, friends and lecturers. The study recommended amongothers that the need for the counseling unit at College of Distance Education of UCC toorganize frequent stress management programs for students and assign academic counselorsto students.Keywords: Stress, distance education students, causes of stress, stress coping strategies.INTRODUCTIONGlobally, the traditional higher education delivery system which has a classroom setting withstudents and lecturer interactions has been challenged by innovations in educational deliverymechanisms (Soliman, 2014). Innovations in information technology has enabled othermethods of education delivery such as Distance Education (DE) gained prominence in highereducation delivery. DE has the student in remote from the campus and is educated through amixture of media such as TV, video, print and personal computer. In many Sub-Saharancountries, tertiary institutions are under pressure to train skilled manpower to meet theincreasing sophisticated demands of workplace. However, universities lack the infrastructureto cater for the increasing numbers of students who graduate from senior high schools everyyear and the high demand of organizations from workers to upgrade themselves to meet thecurrent demand of development. In Ghana, as part of strategies to expand access to tertiary120

education to meet the growing demands of professional education, DE has been one of thebest mode of teaching employed by various universities (Kumi-Yeboah, 2010; Ministry ofEducation [MOE], 2013). This is as result of the unique advantages Distance and Openlearning (DEOL) provide: DE students are not required to be physically residing on thecampus of the learning institution, there is flexibility in the program in terms of place, timeand pace of learning. Experts in various courses write modules for students self-learning,hence study materials could reach the remotest part of the country (Panchabakesan, 2011).Despite all the benefits of distance learning, DE students face a lot of challenges in thecourse of their program (Rourke, Hammond, Flynn, & Boylan, 2010). Studies conducted onDE in Ghana reveal that students face problems such as combining full time work and familydemands with studies. Since many distance students are adults, there are a lot ofresponsibilities to meet while meeting the academic demands of their learning institutions.Most distance education students are matured, married and working. Additionally, distanceeducation students have the problem of combining work, family demands, and othercommitments with packed academic work (Panchabakesan, 2011; Torto, 2009). DE studentsencounter numerous challenges such as increased responsibilities from both nuclear andextended families and other social responsibilities. These responsibilities come with theirassociated pressure of work, fatigue and financial constraint which may result into stressinduced behaviors among these students. Interactions with distance students on theUniversity of Cape Coast Campus during their face-to-face sessions showed complaints ofheadache, sleeplessness, and fatigue by these students. Studies on distance education inGhana have focused mainly on students learning with information communicationtechnology (William, Rebecca, & Joseph, 2010); problems of distance education students(Torto, 2009) and student mode of learning (Agyemang, 2010). Very little is known about thecauses of stress and the coping strategies used by these students to survive the challengesencountered in pursuing distance education in Ghana.Research evidence suggest that students experience some kind of stress in one way or theother, therefore stress is part of students’ existence and can have effect on how studentscope with the demands of university life (Ramos, 2011; Rourke et al., 2010). Other studieshave consequently attributed many emotional and physical symptoms among tertiarystudents such as fatigue, headaches, depression to stress (Abdullah & Dan Mohd, 2011;Dusselier, Dunn, Wang, Shelley, & Whalen, 2010; Soliman, 2014). Excessive stress amongstudents results in poor academic performance, school dropout, addictions, crime etc.Additionally, Soliman (2014) argue that high levels of stress do not only lead to anxiety andloss of objectivity but could also lead to increased incidence of errors and improper behaviorsuch as cheating in examination, fraud and negligence. This presupposes that high level ofstress and it control have effect on students learning outcomes (Dusselier et al., 2010;Gormathi, Kadayam. Soofia Ahmend, 2013). However, how students cope with thesestressors depend largely on their personality, perceptions and past experiences. Muchstudies have been done in developed contexts such as USA and the UK on the relationship ofstress factors among tertiary students and the effects of stress on their academicperformance (Dusselier et al., 2010; Gallagher et al., 2014; Gnilka, Chang, & Dew, 2012;Reed, Lyons, Hendricks, & Mead, 2011), however little is known with regards to stress causesamong DE students in developing contexts including Ghana. DE students have to adapt tovarious forms of psychosocial changes in addition to coping with the academic, social andwork demands in preparing for their professional career (Shamsuddin et al., 2013). Stresscomes in various forms which could affect a person’s health irrespective of the race, age, andsocio-economic background. There are many causes of stress, however, the degree of stresslargely depends on the physical health, interrelationship with others, work demands, thedegree of expectations and dependency; and commitments in various forms (Shamsuddin etal., 2013; Soliman, 2014). Some form of stress is experienced by most students and distanceeducation students are no exception especially adjusting to new situations in their learning121

environment. Ghanaian distance education and sandwich students are faced with writingassignments, preparing for quizzes and end of semester examinations. Furthermore, meetingdeadlines for submission of assignments coupled with work and other social demandsdemand a lot of efforts to handle these multiple roles (Abdullah & Dan Mohd, 2011; EsiaDonkoh, 2014). These academic activities coupled with work schedules and other socialresponsibilities among distance education students have received little research attention toinform policy and practice in the Ghanaian contexts. The findings of this study will be ofsignificance to the management of the College of Distance Education, University of CapeCoast and other similar institutions in developing contexts to be aware of perceived causesof stress among their students and the coping mechanisms they use to minimize them. Thiswill help institutions to strengthen their orientation programs for students and initiateconcrete steps in developing good mechanisms for counseling services for the students. Thisstudy, therefore investigates the causes of stress among distance education students in theUniversity of Cape Coast, Ghana. Furthermore, the study explores the coping mechanismsthese students use to reduce stress in the midst of the many problems they face in theiracademic pursuit.The study was guided by the following research questions and a hypothesis:The research questions are; What are the causes of stress among UCC distance education male and femalestudents? What are the coping mechanism UCC distance education students use to minimizestress?The hypothesis is; There is no difference in stressors among married and unmarried distanceeducation studentsLITERATURE REVIEWStress comes in different forms to an individual’s daily life. Stress is a bio-psychosocialmodel that refers to the consequence of failure of an organism to respond adequately tomental, emotional or physical demands, whether actual or imagined cited in Al-Sowygh,(2013). According to Akhlaq, Amjad and Mehmood (2010), stress is seen as a psychophysiological process, which results from the interaction of the individual with theenvironment and results in disturbances caused to the physiological, psychological and socialsystems, depending upon individual characteristics and psychological processes. Theindividual characteristics may include factors such as sex, health status, heredity, and socioeconomic background. Psychological processes refer to such factors as attitudes, values andvarious personality dimensions. (Gormathi, Kadayam, Soofia & Ahmend, 2013; William et al.,2010).For an undergraduate student, stress may be caused by failure in academic work, financialproblems, health problems, loss of a family member or friend and other social problems(Hung & Care, 2011; Smith, Rosenberg, & Timothy Haight, 2014). Such events that bringstress are called stressors and a sudden change in these stressors may affect the persons’physical or mental health. Studies conducted on university students in the USA, UK and SaudiArabia reveal high academic workload, difficulty reading textbooks, family related problems,health related problems and financial problems as most of the sources of students stress (AlSowygh, Alfadley, Al-Saif, & Al-Wadei, 2013; Chao, 2012; Saklofske, Austin, Mastoras,Beaton, & Osborne, 2012). These studies used regular undergraduate students as their studyparticpants who had varied background characteristics compared to distance educationstudies who majority are matured and are in the working class group. Distance education122

students do not enjoy previlages such as access to library resources, computer laboratories,students support services interactions with academic counselors which make themdisadvantage compared to regular and –campus students. Other reported studies on stressamong tertiary students (Akhlaq et al., 2010; Al-Sowygh, Alfadley, Al-Saif, & Al-Wadei, 2013;Gormathi, Kadayam,Soofia Ahmend, 2013) have grouped stressors among universitystudents under a broad categories such as ‘self-efficacy beliefs’ (e.g. fear of failing a courseor insecurity concerning professional future); ‘workload’ (e.g. difficulty of class work,overloaded course content), ‘faculty and administration’ (e.g. lack of input into the decisionmaking process of school), ‘social stressors’ (e.g. financial responsibilities). All these studieswere done with mostly regular residential students on university campuses; hence there is agap to fill in the literature as to the sources and management of stress among distanceeducation students in developing context.Empirical evidence of the impact of stress on the individual has shown that depending on thestress coping strategies of the individual, stress could be very harmful to a person’s physicaland mental health (Akhlaq et al., 2010; Al-Sowygh, 2013; Hung & Care, 2011; Smith et al.,2014). The effects of stress in the literature stem from physical, psychological to behavioralproblems. Some of the physical problems of prolonged stress are hypertension, highcholesterol level, ulcer, arthritis and heart diseases (Akhlaq et al., 2010; Johnson,Wasserman, Yildirim, & Yonai, 2013; Ramos, 2011). Psychological effects of stress could beanger, anxiety, nervous tension, depression, boredom. Direct behavior that may accompanyhigh level of stress include under-eating or over-eating, increased smoking and alcohol use,and drug abuse (Esia-donkoh, Yelkpieri, & Esia-donkoh, 2011; Hung & Care, 2011; Ramos,2011). The literature furthermore documents that high levels of stress if not controlled couldresult into poor academic performance, examination malpractices and incidence of improperbehavior among tertiary students (Rourke et al., 2010; Soliman, 2014). Hence, stress is animportant variable to include in designing students support services for distance educationprograms. A detailed examination of Al-Sowygh’s (2013) study on “perceived causes ofstress among Saudi dental students” revealed some significance differences in stressorsusing some background characteristics of the students. There were statistical differences instressors among male and female students; first year and final year students. In Ghana,traditional gende-role identification and living arrangement have established cleardelineation of households responsibilites which continue to passed down to children in thefamily (Adu-Yeboah, 2011). It is generally held that married women have to performhousehold chores like washing, cooking, caring for children.Furthermore, cleaning the houseare the responsiblites of married women while men have the responsibility of providing forthe home whether employed or unemployed (Adu-Yeboah, 2011). Consequently, we positthat married people pursuing tertiary education especially on distanace could have higherstressors than their unmarried couterparts. We, therefore hypothesised that there is nodifference in stressors among married and unmarried distance education students. Thishypothesis is supported by findings of some studies (Al-Sowygh, 2013; Kaufman, 2006; Reedet al., 2011) that found differences in stressors among married/unmarried and male/femalestudents. The background characteristics of these students in the studies in developedcontext are different from that of Ghanaian distance education students in terms of socioeconomic background which gives space to explore the hypothesis in a developing context.Coping strategies to reduce stress is a necessary condition for preventing the harmful effectsof prolonged stress (William et al., 2010). Coping strategies refer to the specific efforts thatpeople use to master, reduce or minimize stressful event. Coping is multi-dimensional andinvolves various strategies of which some are functional than others (Gnilka, Chang, & Dew,2012). Chao (2012) identifies two important ways of managing stress; namely social supportand dysfunctional coping strategies. Social support such as seeking support from familiesand friends naturally help people to manage stress. Dysfunctional coping strategies include:123

focusing on and venting of emotions; behavioral disengagement and mental disengagement.Supporting this view of coping is what Lazarus and Folkman cited in (Chao, 2012) identifiedas problem-focused ways of managing stress referring to attempts to engage, act on, orchange the perceived stress. The issue of social support and coping has received considerableattention in the literature, indeed, social support has been found to be related to problemfocused coping (Soliman, 2014). This assertion is corroborated by Saklofske, Austin,Mastoras, Beaton and Osborne (2012) who suggest that relaxation, exercises, maintaininggood health and time managements are some ways of managing stress. A study by Sideridis(2008) reveals five most frequently used coping strategies by students; browsing theinternet, sleeping and resting, watching TV shows or movies, and instant messaging.The search for literature indicate there have been very limited discussion in the literature onthe sources of distance students’ stressors and what coping strategies they adopt tominimize the effect of stress in light of growing number of distance education students inmost parts of the world. In this study, we give an account of the sources of stressors amongdistance education students, and the coping strategies they use to minimize stressful eventsin the Ghanaian context.DISTANCE EDUCATION IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COASTIn Ghana, several public and private universities run distance education programs reducingthe problem of admission to regular residential campuses to many students who are denieddue to lack of infrastructure and to offer opportunity to many workers to access highereducation in these universities. The College of Distance Education of the University of CapeCoast (CoDEUCC) was established under the Faculty of Education to run distance educationprograms. CoDEUCC currently has over thirty-five thousand students pursuing diploma, postdiploma, and graduate programs in Education and Business. More than 70% of the studentsenroll as mature students and are mostly over 24 years as demanded by the universityrequirements (University of Cape Coast, 2016). CoDEUCC uses the print medium and face-toface or tutorial sessions primarily as its mode of delivery. This mode of delivery makes itimportant and beneficial for students to be regular at their study centers to take part in faceto-face activities. Students have face-to-face sessions with their course tutors every twoweeks for two days (Saturdays and Sundays) for six weeks all in five months’ period makinga semester. Students have to write two standardized quizzes, Tutor-Made Test (TMT) andassignments in all the courses registered and end of semester examinations.METHODThe study was descriptive in nature employing quantitative methods in collecting the data. Across-sectional survey was carried out using a voluntary, anonymous, self-administeredquestionnaire among sampled final year distance education students (diploma and those atthe post-diploma level; a certificate given by the University for completing a three-yearprescribed course of study.) between November 2014 to February 2015. Final year studentswere used because they have experienced distance education for more than two years hencewere in the position of responding appropriately to questions relating to stress on theprogram. Students were informed about the purpose of the study and verbal consent wasobtained. A total of 332 distance education final year students (business and educationstudents) were randomly sampled from final year students at two purposively selected studycenters. The final year students were stratified into 10 centers from all the 10 regions inGhana. At the study centers one education program classes and business program classeswere each randomly selected to participate in the survey.124

Table 1. Demographic description of the study sampleVariableGenderN 332MaleFemaleN (%)232 (69.9)100 (30.1)Level300500146 (44.0)186 (56.0)Religious DenominationChristianMoslem299 (90.1)33 (9.9)Marital StatusSingleMarried140 (42.2)192 (57.8)Employment StatusEmployedUnemployed315 (94.9)17 (5.1)Age (years)Mean (SD)31.0 (6.25)Survey questionnaires were distributed to the students (the response rate was 85%) wereinternally consistent for all the questionnaire items as assessed by Cronbach’s alpha 0.75.There were 232 (69.9%) males and 100 (30.1%) females with a mean age of 31 years (seeTable 1). Majority of the respondents wer

University of Cape Coast, Ghana Gabriel ESSILFIE College of Distance Education University of Cape Coast, Ghana ABSTRACT This study was designed to identify the causes of stress and coping strategies adopted among distance education students at the College of Distance Education in the University of Cape Coast.

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