Education Matters

Greetings and welcome to Education Matters. In this column, I respond to any question related to Education and Learning. In particular, issues that may be troubling and generating concern.

On a very happy note, I was recently invited to meet with the Year Five students at Pelangi School in Ubud. They too, had a raft of questions for me and quite frankly, I was amazed at their level of maturity! (I certainly don’t remember being that insightful at such a tender age). Furthermore, this gathering provided a very clear snap shot of what our children are being confronted with in this remarkable technological world. Especially, issues relating to social media, self imagine and cyber bullying. So Year Five, thank you for the opportunity to meet you, it was a genuine privilege!

Today’s letter comes from Boris of Nusa Dua. “ I have a six year old daughter and she does not speak very much, certainly not as much as other children. My wife is Indonesian, so she speaks Bahasa. I speak Russian and my daughter goes to a school were she is taught in English. Is she confused by having so many different languages around her or is there something else wrong”?

Thank you for your letter Boris, you have touched on an issue that certainly appears to be on the increase in Bali, especially where a number of languages are frequently spoken in the family home. First and foremost, I would encourage you to have your daughter examined by a medical specialist to check if she has any problems with her hearing or voice. This will remove the possibility of any physical impediment being the cause of her Language Delay.

Boris, I would not be too concerned about your daughter having three languages to learn or at least listen to. Children up to about the age of seven years, have a remarkable ability to absorb and process information. At this point in their young lives, their brain’s are soaking knowledge up at an amazing rate, so do be mindful of what you say around your daughter as it will be repeated!

Speech is the most common and yet the most complex means of expression. It requires the coordination of breathing and a number voice producing organs. Put simply, when a speech impairment is present to the extent where the individual”s speech deviates, it interferes with communication, attracts unfavourable attention and adversely affects the listener and certainly the speaker.

A child’s overal speech pattern will usually become more understandable as she/he matures. However, some children will require direct training to eliminate pressing articulation (speaking) problems.

To develop a rich vocabulary (number of words that are known), language needs to be valued and used. May I suggest the following strategies:

  1. Place your daughter in Learning Opportunities where she must use her language skills.
  2. Do not accept her simply pointing at what she wants but insist she tells you!
  3. Make sure you and your wife both know about this strategy. Consistency is the key!
  4. Don’t interupt or correct your child when she/he is speaking.
  5. Use probing questions that will make it necessary for her/him to use more and different words.
  6. Do not let others speak for her.
  7. Do not let other children or family members mock or make fun of your child when she/he is speaking.


Over the years, I have encountered a number of children and adults who have chosen to engage in Selective Mutism, namely they choose not to talk! Clearly, this behaviour is disturbing and must be addressed immediately, especially in the child’s formative years!

Some of the motivation for this behaviour include:

  1. A desire to control and manipulate others.
  2. A means whereby they can avoid completing tasks that are not to their liking.
  3. Avoid socializing with others.
  4. Attention seeking.
  5. Self loathing.

Speech Disorders and Delays can range from the subtle where they have no or little impact on daily living and socialization to the inability to produce speech or to understand and use language. Some speech problems such as those relating to physiological defects, for example, where the nerve impulses to the muscles of speech are not functioning correctly, generally require a much longer period of therapy and patience!

Fortunately, only a very small percentage of children are at the most extreme level of severity and most can be addressed regardless of age. But ideally the sooner the better!

However, because of the importance of language and communication skills in a child’s life, even mild to moderate disorders or disturbances can and do have a profound effect on all aspects of their life that will invaribly isolate them from their peers and Learning Environments. If you recognise the onset of Speech Delay in your child then please, seek out the assistance of a specialist immediately!


Finally, my homily for this edition of Education Matters is:

“Select the books you read with the same care and consideration you use to select your friends”.

Dr. Leith is a qualified Primary, Secondary and Special Education Teacher. Has a Master’s Degree in Cognitive Stimulation using Music as a Therapy, A Ph.D in Education Evaluating how Special Education Classroom Teachers Manage Challenging Behaviour. Has lectured and conducted Post Doctoral Research at The School of Psychology and Human Development at The Institute of Education, London University. Has presented his findings on Dyslexia to a Select Committee in the UK House of Commons. Is a member of the Editoral Board of The International Journal of Inclusive Education.


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