On Saturday 20th February 2016, Faith Associates met with Suzanne Kidd, author of Quran4Kids, at a multi-sensory madrassah she supports in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire to discuss special education needs in the madrassah.
Interview with Suzanne Elizabeth Kidd
Faith Associates: What’s the importance of SEN provision in the madrassah?
Suzanne: I think there’s a massive importance. Children with special needs in the madrassah are completely overlooked, through no fault of their own. It’s often that no one knows how to support the child. If the child is well behaved he’ll probably just sit there for two hours not learning anything and not saying anything, or even make it look like he’s learning by copying and mouthing words but he’ll be struggling. Then there are other children that can’t focus so they’ll move from madrassah to madrassah. I’ve spoken to parents whose children have gone through five madrassahs and at the end they’ve just had to take their children out because nobody can cope with it. For these children to have an Islamic environment and an Islamic education, I think, is really important.
Faith Associates: How did the Quran4Kids books and the App come about?
Suzanne: I’m a primary school teacher. As I was teaching I was also learning tajweed. I had a lot of parents approaching me asking if I could teach their children. I felt that there was no substantial material out there that was engaging and interactive to take children right the way through to Quran. So I thought to myself it won’t take long, I’ll just put something together. Alhamdulilah, I’m glad I did it but it took six years to put it all together. Because once you start something like that you have to go over it again and get someone to design all the pages and it was a really long journey, but it was basically to encourage children to learn in an interactive way where they enjoy the learning and have lots of activities, where they have a positive learning environment. I just found that a lot of the children are bored in the madrassah. The one’s that I’ve been in to anyway. This type of support is massively needed. That’s where it came from.
Faith Associates: Is the Quran4Kids curriculum specific for Special Education Needs (SEN) students?
Suzanne: It’s for all children but it’s also very good for children with special needs. Every child learns in a different way and all need to be taught in different ways. Some will be visual learners, some will like the audio side and if you teach them through their preferred style they’re more likely to excel and that’s what it’s all based around; multi-sensory learning. You learn through the senses, you have the audio, the visual, the practical, touching and seeing and all children need that in every subject. When I teach English and Maths I do the same. If you’re doing shapes for example you’ll have one group making the shape, you’d have another group doing patterns and another doing the workbook. I use that same teaching method which I have found is one of the most effective ways. It’s moving away from kids sitting idly and getting them engaged in the learning, it’s being creative with your teaching and that’s what I’ve always done so I just put it in to teaching Quran. It’s good for all children but children with special needs will have no chance of surviving in most madrassahs. Some might, but they’ll really struggle because the writing is small and there is nothing else for them to do. There’s little if no practical aspect to the learning. Quran4Kids provides for students with educational needs who have nothing.
Faith Associates: Do the parents acknowledge and understand that they have children with learning difficulties?
Suzanne: Some parents understand that something’s not quite right and are eager to have their child diagnosed and provide them all the help in the world whilst others just don’t admit that their child has a problem.
Faith Associates: How have the Muslim community responded to this support?
Suzanne: I’ve found them really responsive. Often when parents come to pick up their children they have tears of joy because they have never had any sort of support with a madrassahs accommodating their children. These have all been parents who are desperate for their children to attend the madrassah and they’ve never been able to do that.
Faith Associates: How would a parent or teacher find out if their children have SEN?
Suzanne: When I deliver my training I go through all the signs to look out for. For example, dyslexia, autism, developmental delay and help teachers understand the signs. However, it’s not for teachers to diagnose. We would never say ‘your child is dyslexic’ we call the parents in and express our concerns, explain what we’re doing to help and advise them to contact the child’s school or the local GP or if they can afford it to get them assessed privately. If there was a concern in schools, the child would be assessed by the education psychologist but a lot of Muslim schools and madrassahs just don’t have the provision for it.
Faith Associates: What do you ask for from the parents when you take on new students?
Suzanne: We ask for a school report, any special needs diagnosis, any important medical information. Then I have a meeting with each of the child’s parents to find out the exact needs and how the child works so I can make a judgement call as to whether I could cope. For example, there are some children, in severe cases, that are unable to use the bathroom alone. We can’t take on students with severe needs but can when they have specific learning needs such as focusing, attentiveness, speech problems etc.
Faith Associates: What kind of success have you found working with SEN children?
Suzanne: With my current class, they started with no knowledge of Arabic, we do half hour sessions and focus on one letter per session. Each week, more or less every student, learns a new letter. They are learning. Previously, I’ve taught children with autism and they’ve got all the way to reading the Qur’an following this.
Faith Associates: That’s incredible because without this support they would have never had this opportunity.
Suzanne: Yes. It’s really good and really rewarding once you get in to it. I get quite attached to the students too, so it’s hard for me to see them leave.
Faith Associate: If there are one or two SEN students in a class would you advise that they’re given a separate class or provided support by way of a teaching assistant?
Suzanne: There are a few options. When I deliver my training I go through all the options. There’s a step by step process. Initially, if you find a child struggling what you would do as a teacher is give them a different type of exercise, maybe use a different type of resource and work with them in class at their own pace regardless of where the other students are. So the first step is differentiation, keeping in mind that every child in every class is not of the same ability. We set them targets and try to cater for them in the class. If that doesn’t work, then I’d go for a shorter session or a smaller group session. If it’s still not working with a teaching assistant, then I’d go for a separate class at a separate day and time. This all depends on resources the madrassah has. This is if they have teaching assistants and extra classrooms.
Faith Associates: What are the practical steps a Madrassah can take in setting up their own SEN department or making provision for SEN students?
Suzanne: I would advise looking at resources. They’ll need more than just the qaida, for example the Quran4kids books and other similar resources. So, look at other resources that are child friendly and use a different type of recourse for that child as if they’re not learning then you need to try to change the way you’re doing things. Looking at a more engaging child-friendly way of teaching. What you do will depend on the needs of the children. If you wanted to have a separate SEN class, then the classroom would have to be decorated in a particular way. The children need a room they’re happy to be in, not a boring one with plain walls. I do themed rooms, I’ve done a secret garden, a jungle area and the deep blue sea just so they want to come to madrassah and then when they’re here provide for their learning needs in small groups and in different ways. Each madrassah will have to think about how it works for their children. A good start is just having staff trained in special needs and once people are aware they can decide how to best accommodate SEN students.
Faith Associates: What type of trainig and support do you provide?
Suzanne: I offer half-day workshops bringing together all my experience in special needs. I talk about the signs and symptoms and what to look out for if you suspect a child has special needs. I talk about how to teach that child, setting targets, monitoring that child’s progress and the SEN resources. At times I’ve come in to the madrassah and set up the SEN department for them.
I’m currently working with a madrassah in Wolverhampton to set up a department for children with severe special education needs. A lot of people I come across want things to change at the same time there are people quite happy with the status quo. One of the mothers has said to me that since her son began attending the SEN madrassah he’s began praying at home and we don’t do anything about prayer yet. The fact that they’re coming to the masjid and being supported has that effect on the heart.
Faith Associates: Sadly, it’s often these types of children that can have the worst experiences in the madrassah.
Suzanne: One of my students who has come from a previous madrassah was kicked down the stairs and knocked unconscious. There’s a lot of bullying. One of the parents has said that she’s just coming out of depression so it’s support for them too.
Faith Associates: This is important work you’re doing and we pray Allah accepts it.
Other SEN service providers in the Muslim community include: