Sense of Efficacy and Psychological Distress among Primary School Teachers in Kinta Utara District, Perak, Malaysia : Malaysian Journal of Psychiatry

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Original Article

Sense of Efficacy and Psychological Distress among Primary School Teachers in Kinta Utara District, Perak, Malaysia

Ong, Wan Xi; Chong, Siew Koon1,; Zakaria, Norzila2; Bakar, Raishan Shafini2

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Malaysian Journal of Psychiatry 31(2):p 65-71, Jul–Dec 2022. | DOI: 10.4103/mjp.mjp_20_22
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The education system in Malaysia is moving from summative assessment also known as examination-oriented education, to a more holistic continuous approach.[1] Class streaming based solely on academic abilities had been abolished. Examinations in lower primary schools were removed and replaced by continuous assessments.[1] This shift in the educational system demands a new set of skills from the teachers to maintain classroom control, give instructions and keep students engaged, while keeping abreast with the latest educational system changes. Frequent changes in the education system are postulated to cause psychological distress to the teachers.[2]

Psychological distress is widely used as an indicator of the mental health of the population. It is defined as a state of emotional suffering such as depression, anxiety, and stress.[3] Such phenomenon has been increasing over the years. Taher etal.[4] reported that 44.5% of Libyan teachers experienced depression, 56% anxiety, and 39.5% stress. In India, a survey on depression and stress levels among teachers found that 52.38% had depression, 28.6% had mild depression, and 18.1% had moderate depression.[5]

A study in Malaysia showed that 21% of teachers reported mild depressive symptoms and 8.1% being severe to extremely severe.[6] Another similar local study showed that 43.59% of teachers had severe depressive symptoms, and 25.69% were extremely severe symptoms.[2] In short, psychological distress affecting teachers is becoming a global phenomenon. As teachers play an essential role in the education system, reviewing factors that may potentially affect their psychological distress is imperative. A local study which examines psychological distress among primary and secondary school teachers noted that social background such as teacher’s age, marital status, and teaching experience might influence the level of psychological distress.[7]

Another factor which may influence the level of psychological distress among the teachers is their sense of efficacy.[8,9] The term “teacher’s efficacy” is a judgment of his or her ability to bring about desired outcomes of student engagement and learning, even among difficult or unmotivated students.[10] Tschannen-Moran and Hoy[10] developed the Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy Scale (TSES). The scale assesses the teachers’ efficacy in terms of classroom management (CME), student engagement (SEE), and instructional strategies (ISE).

In their efforts to measure teacher self-efficacy, they noted that the key components are capabilities to keep students engaged in their studies as captured by the SEE, their capacities in issuing instructions ISE and their efficacy in managing the entire classroom, which CME measures.[10] Teachers with a higher sense of efficacy are more enthusiastic about teaching, are more committed to teaching, and are less likely to experience psychological distress.[10]

A local study by Shihah and Abdullah[11] showed that the sense of efficacy among teachers in the interior district of Sabah, Malaysia was within the medium level, with ISEs efficacy being the highest and SEE efficacy as the lowest. Some possible factors contributing to teacher self-efficacy include years of experience in the field and efficacy of SEE as described in British studies by Pöysä etal.[12] and local study by Wong etal.[13] Cansoy etal.[8] discovered a positive relationship between teachers’ self-efficacy and psychological well-being. When teachers are confident in their abilities, they become more motivated and perceive themselves as being in control of their daily tasks. Motivated teachers quickly adapt their strategies, practices, and teaching style to their students specific needs.[14] These skills are necessary as the task of keeping students in check is challenging and could lead to psychological distress.[14] Research by Jeon etal.[15] showed that teachers’ abilities to cope in their career are greatly affected by their efficacy in managing their classroom and students.

Some primary sources of teacher’s stress include low self-efficacy in managing pupils who lack motivation, maintaining students’ discipline, and controlling the classroom.[15,16] Pöysä etal.[12] used data from 155 video-recorded lessons and found that the leading cause of teachers’ frustration is their inability to keep their students engaged. Jennings and Greenberg[17] described teachers’ difficulties with behavioral management and issuing instructions in the classroom with a decreased sense of self-efficacy, resulting in psychological distress for the teachers.

The consequences of psychological distress among teachers are associated with depression, stress, and burnout.[18] This development is alarming as teachers’ stress would adversely affect students’ quality of education and other aspects of development, especially their character growth and mental health.[19]

Multiple studies indicate that teachers with high self-efficacy have less psychological distress. Oral[20] more specifically highlighted classroom management and anxiety. Preece[21] also found an inverse relationship between anxiety and classroom management.

To date, most local studies used secondary school teachers as their population of interest, with relatively sparse data regarding primary school teachers. Furthermore, there are limited studies in Malaysia regarding teachers’ efficacy and it’s linked to psychological distress. This manuscript aims to determine the prevalence of psychological distress among primary school teachers, its correlation with the level of sense of efficacy and associated sociodemographic factors.

This information would aid us in evaluating the prevalence of psychological distress endured by the primary school teachers during this period of change and their capability to adapt and cope. In turn, it will help prepare any mental health intervention to aid the teachers if the need arises.


Designs and participants

This cross-sectional study was conducted among primary school teachers in Kinta Utara District, Perak, from July to October 2019. The participants were recruited via a simple random sampling method. Ten primary schools from Kinta Utara district and their teachers were randomly selected using online random number generator (list obtained with the permission of the Ministry of Education and the respective headmaster of each school).

Participants were primary school teachers from the government sector with at least 6 months of teaching experience. This period was selected so there would be adequate exposure to primary school teaching environments and to exclude the presence of adjustment disorders. Conversely, practicum and replacement teachers were excluded.

Participation was voluntary in nature. Written consent was obtained prior from participants before the dissemination of questionnaires. The researchers then collected the questionnaires after 1 week. The study protocol was approved by the Malaysian Research Ethics Committee and registered with the National Malaysian Research Registry.


Sociodemographic Questionnaire

Sociodemographic questionnaire aims to obtain the following data: age, sex, race, marital status, education level, presence of medical comorbid or psychiatric illness, years of service, school type, and job descriptions (singular versus multiple job scopes).

Malay Version of Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy Scale (12-item Short Form)

The original TSES was developed by Tschannen-Moran and Hoy.[10] It uses a 9-point response scale which is self-reported, and the responses are anchored with the descriptors 1-nothing, 3-very little, 5-some influence, 7-quite a bit, and 9-a great deal. TSES taps teachers’ efficacy judgment in three domains, SEE, ISEs, and CME. A higher score of TSES indicates a higher sense of efficacy.

TSES includes a long form (24 items) and a short form (12 items). The psychometric properties of the short form of the TSES are nearly identical to those of the long form. In this study, 12-item short form of TSES was selected for ease of administration. Twelve items of TSES demonstrated good reliability with Cronbach’s alpha 0.90 for Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy (TSE), 0.81 for SEE Efficacy, 0.86 for ISEs Efficacy), 0.86 for CME. TSES demonstrated good validity with factor loading ranges from 0.61 to 0.83 on all 12 items.[10]

The 12-item short form of TSES had been translated into the Malay version by Johari etal. and it has factor values ranging from 0.63 to 0.87 via confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). It also demonstrated a good reliability with high internal consistency Cronbach’s alpha of 0.92 for TSES, 0.80 for Student Engagement, 0.76 for Instructional Strategies, and 0.85 for Classroom Management.[22]

Malay Version of Depression Anxiety Stress Scale 21

Depression Anxiety Stress Scale 21 (DASS-21) is short form of 42-item DASS which was developed by Lovibond and Lovibond.[23] It is a self-report questionnaire consisting of 21 items, with seven items per subscale: depression, anxiety, and stress. It is scored on a Likert scale from 0 (did not apply to me at all) to 3 (applied to me very much and most of the time). DASS is not a diagnostic questionnaire but as a severity measurement. DASS is suitable to be used in any clinical or nonclinical setting and no special training is required for administration to the general population.[23]

The reliabilities of DASS 21 were estimated using Cronbach’s alpha. For depression scale α = 0.88, for anxiety scale α = 0.82, for stress scale α = 0.90, and for total scale α = 0.93. The results from CFA modeling indicate that although the 3 DASS-21 scales index showed a substantial common factor (i.e., general psychological distress), they also contain variance that is specific to each scale.[24]

The Malay version of DASS was translated and validated by Musa etal. in 2007.[24] It has very good Cronbach’s alpha values of 0.84 for the depression scale, 0.74 for the anxiety subscale, and 0.79 for stress subscale and good factor loading values for most items (0.39–0.73). Correlations among scales were between 0.54 and 0.68.[24]

Scores on the DASS-21 will need to be multiplied by 2 to calculate the final score.[23] Table 1 is a guide for interpreting DASS scores.

Table 1:
Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale-21 scoring

Statistical analysis

The data entry and analysis were performed using the Statistical Package for Social Study (SPSS) Version 26 (IBM, New York, USA). Descriptive statistics were used to summarize participants’ sociodemographic characteristics. Continuous variables were described as mean and standard deviation while categorical variables were expressed as frequency and percentage. Sociodemographic variables were used in the logistic regression model to test the predictive preliminary model of psychological distress (levels of depression, anxiety, and stress). Subsequently, the logistic regression model includes domains from TSES as additive effects in describing the psychological distress of teachers. The goodness of fit, multicollinearity, and interactions were examined before obtaining a final model.


Participant characteristics

Out of 350 questionnaires distributed, 294 participants responded (84% response rate). Table 2 shows that the mean age of the participants was 42.7 years. Majority of the participants were female (83.4%), Malay (55.1%), married (88.1%), and had obtained bachelor’s degrees (63.3%) and master’s (19.4%), with mean years of service being 17.5 years.

Table 2:
Sociodemographic characteristics of the participants (n=294)

Prevalence of psychological distress among primary school teachers

Table 3 shows that the prevalence of depression, anxiety, or stress among teachers was at values of 22.1%, 44.6%, and 17.0%, respectively.

Table 3:
Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress among primary school teachers in Kinta Utara District, Perak, Malaysia (n=294)

Level of teachers’ sense of efficacy

Table 4 shows the SEE at 7.0 (1.0), ISEs 7.1 (0.9), CME at 7.3 (1.0), with TSE at mean value of 7.1 (0.9).

Table 4:
Teachers’ sense of efficacy scores among primary school teachers in Kinta Utara District, Perak, Malaysia (n=294)

Correlation between Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy Scale with psychological distress

Table 5 shows that TSES scores had a negative correlation with depression, anxiety, and stress.

Table 5:
Pearson’s correlation coefficient between mean scores of teachers’ sense of efficacy and depression, anxiety, and stress

Factors associated with psychological distress

Table 6 shows the odds of having depression were negatively correlated with efficacy in ISEs. The odds of having anxiety and stress were negatively correlated with CME.

Table 6:
Factors associated with depression, anxiety, and stress among primary school teachers in Kinta Utara District, Perak, Malaysia (n=294)


Various studies globally have examined the intricate relationship between teachers’ psychological distress and TSE.[8,9] Some postulated that other factors may play a role, for example, the sociodemographic background of the teachers in addition to the various paradigm shifts across the millennia which affect the world of teaching pedagogy.[7] The present study sought answers to this debate by describing the prevalence of psychological distress and its correlation with the level of sense of efficacy among primary school teachers, considering sociodemographic backgrounds in a descriptive approach.

This study demonstrated that 22.1% of primary school teachers scored higher in the depression subscale, 44.6% reported heightened anxiety levels and 17.0% experienced stress. In contrast, secondary school teachers had a higher prevalence of distress, with 49.1% depression[6] and 34% stress.[25] A similar finding of higher mean stress levels among secondary school teachers compared to their primary school counterparts was seen in a study conducted by KK and Hassan.[7] The secondary school teachers perceived more stress due to workload, time constraints, and student attitude as compared to primary school teachers.[7]

Our study results showed a negative correlation between CME and psychological distress. Pöysä et al.[12] and Wong et al.[13] similarly found an inverse relationship between anxiety level and classroom management. In addition, Vaezi and Fallah[26] showed a significant negative relationship between self-efficacy and stress, with poor classroom efficacy being a predictor of stress. Teachers who were efficacious in classroom management experienced improved interaction with their students, obtaining better social and emotional support.[8] Conversely, failure of keeping students engaged is related to a higher level of burnout among teachers.[13] This is further supported by studies done by Savas[9] and Skaalvik[27] which revealed that teachers with low self-efficacy experienced more psychological distress.

Teachers who were efficacious in classroom management experienced improved interaction with their students, obtaining better social and emotional support.[8] Savas[9] and Skaalvik and Skaalvik[27] revealed that teachers with low self-efficacy experienced heightened psychological distress. Consequently, a higher level of burnout among teachers correlates with failure to keep students engaged.[13]

Oral[20] and Preece[21] stated CME as an important factor in reducing anxiety and stress levels. This could be explained by the phenomenon of the psychology of “being in control” of the classroom as described by García-Ros etal.[28] They discovered that the cause of anxiety and stress among teachers was due to the lack of efficacy in achieving proper classroom management, especially when managing students with behavioral issues.[28] This was in line with the findings of the present study, where teachers with anxiety and stress generally reported lower CME.

The Mean score for the TSE of this study was similar to the pioneer study by Tschannen-Moran and Hoy, with both studies showing a mean value of 7.1.[10] Our finding was higher than those recorded in a local study by Murshidi etal.,[25] which showed lower scores with TSE at 6.57, ISE 6.74, CME 6.64, and SEE 6.34. The higher score from this study may be explained by the higher level of education, with most of the teachers being degree holders. Kong et al.[29] stated that teachers with higher education were more confident in delivering their knowledge to their students. Teachers with a higher level of education generally receive more training, translating into greater self-efficacy.[9]

This study did not find any significant relationship between sociodemographic variables with psychological distress. Similarly, a study by García-Ros etal.,[28] noted no significant relationship between sociodemographic factors with the levels of self-efficacy and psychological distress.

The strength of this study is the fact that it was conducted several months after the paradigm shift of the Malaysian education system and was completed just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Future researchers may therefore use this study to compare teachers’ psychological distress and sense of efficacy before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the strengths of the present study, this study also has limitations. Due to its cross-sectional design, it is difficult to establish causation, whether having psychological distress leads to decreased self-efficacy or vice-versa. Besides, the longitudinal evolution of psychological distress and teacher efficacy over time cannot be evaluated.

The effects of response bias cannot be eliminated as the teachers know that their response is the primary object of scrutiny. This study does not consider other factors such as personality, coping methods, financial status, social support system, and environmental factors, which may be confounding factors associated with mental and emotional health.


Providing mental health support to teachers is vital. The results of this study demonstrated a negative correlation between TSE in classroom management and instructional strategies with the level of psychological distress. The Education Ministry may aim to improve teachers’ efficacy, particularly on instructional strategies and classroom management, while providing intervention for any mental health issues.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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Anxiety; depression; psychological distress; teachers’ sense of efficacy

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