Parents love Dr Davidson Daway because their children love him. For that same reason, he believes, some schools are unhappy with him.
Since he started preparing students for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) five years ago, his student population has climbed exponentially from one to 91. He has had to turn away scores of students each year because there is no space, Daway says in an interview with the Sunday Observer.
Like the late George Abrahams of Common Entrance Examination (CEE) extra-lesson fame, Daway, an assertive, self-assured Dominican, seems unmatched in his knack for producing GSAT scholarship winners or students who get their first place in one of the sought-after traditional high schools.
His popularity is, however, creating ripples of animosity in some prep schools, he claims, accusing them of warning parents away from his Kids of Vision GSAT Training Centre, located off the Red Hills Road in St Andrew.
Daway believes their motives are purely economic, charging that his existence is eating into their extra-lesson profits.
At least one school, he says, has taken the matter from issuing warnings at a PTA meeting to rescheduling its own extra-lesson class time to clash with his.
“The parents actually told me this themselves. They called me from the (PTA) meeting. They actually said I was the agenda. It doesn’t bother me at all,” says the self-assured Daway.
But the school fans off the accusation. “I’m not aware of it. I don’t know of him at all,” says the principal. “It would be terrible for parents or teachers to be caught up in the hype of GSAT,” she says dismissively.
True or false, the accusation has not stemmed the flow of parents running to Daway, whose success is driven in part by the desperate shortage of space in the perceived quality high schools.
Each year, approximately 50,000 students compete for 14,000 preferred high school spaces.
“Prep school children want to go to the top schools. They know it’s a rat race and they know it’s difficult,” says Molly Russell, who, for her post-graduate degree in education, studied the performance of GSAT students in six primary schools last year.
This fact has some schools working overtime, she says, as the more students they succeed in getting placed in the top schools, the better the school will look and the more students they will attract for recruitment next academic year.
Daway says he takes a different approach in the way students are prepared for GSAT at Kids of Vision.
He emphasises foundation. “If a child doesn’t know his timetables or his formulas, how will he perform?” he asks.
He tries to motivate them and sweetens labour with encouragement.
“There is a little drama and humour and a lot of psychology to help them along. You have to make them feel good about themselves.”
Each of his students attends extra classes – his only, he insists – twice per week. They are placed on a study programme where they are assigned specific times to begin and end their own private study at home. There, study lasts no more than an hour and a half each day.
“I tell the parents everyday that if the school continues the curriculum the way they should, there is absolutely no reason why the children have to be under that amount of stress. What I’ve noticed in the schools is that it’s like a rush for gold. They figure if they push the kids early then they would perform greater. But that’s a myth,” Daway argues.
“The greatest ill is they overload them with homework. How can you give the child 80 questions of Maths and 80 questions of English to go home and do? That’s very ridiculous! But you know what? It’s an easy way out for them. So what happens is there’s an adverse effect. The teachers can’t correct all those books in one day. Not only that, but the concepts are not being taught.”
Parents have been happy at the response of their children to Daway’s coaching.
“Dr Daway is a blessing,” says Maxine Spence, whose child, now 14 years old, was Daway’s first student.
Her son, she recalls, was among those not considered by his teachers at Queen’s Prep, to be able to manage the exam. They recommended that the boy stay back a year. But after one month of coaching, Daway helped him raise his overall scores.
“After the first class, my son came home happy. He said, ‘Mommy, I know I’m going to make it, Dr Daway is an excellent teacher!'” Her son got his first choice of high school. “I cried the whole day,” Spence says.
With increasing enrolment each year, Daway has seen an increase in the number of his students who win GSAT scholarships. His very first and only student in 1999 won a government scholarship, given to a handful of students that year, who aced top scores in the first GSAT exams. In 2000, of a class consisting of only 11 students, three obtained GSAT scholarships. For each of the following two years, he had four scholarship winners from classes of 27 and 43 students respectively. Last year, out of 70 students, six obtained GSAT scholarships.
Modestly, Daway says he is not a teacher. He has two Master’s degrees, one in marketing and the other in finance and a post-graduate degree in economics.
For more than 17 years, he worked in the United Nations as under-secretary for the American Caribbean Basin. His job was to ensure International Monetary Fund resources were distributed equitably in the nations he was assigned.
In 1993, he took a leave of absence to visit his sick mother-in-law in Jamaica and never returned to the UN. His teaching skills were developed and honed after numerous visits to observe how the curriculum was being taught in some primary and preparatory schools.
He is not always welcomed onto the school premises. Some deny him entry, he says, but when he is allowed, he tries to get into a classroom and takes a seat at the back.
From that vantage point, he has gained much insight. For example, how a teacher “tends to gravitate towards the brighter set of students while paying scant regard to slower learners”.
Daway’s response is to work harder with those not up to par and to treat each child with the same level of respect and understanding, he says.
Unlike CEE extra lesson tutors in the past, a child’s scores are never used to determine his/her acceptance into his programme. Working with slow learners proves what you are made of, he says.