In February, Noble Philip tendered his resignation from the ALTA board. Noble has given generously of his time and expertise to ALTA since October 2013, serving as chairman from February 2014. During this time he has gone above and beyond the duties of board member and chairman and made an invaluable and lasting contribution to ALTA. CEO of ALTA, Paula Lucie Smith spoke warmly of Noble saying, “Despite the many demands on his time, Noble made ALTA a priority and provided wise counsel when critical decisions had to be made. His wealth of management experience served both ALTA and me as CEO well.”
Legal Officer on the board, Marise Warner commended Noble as an inspiring and motivational steward who was always “mindful of the challenges in the current landscape and seeking to implement viable longer term solutions, while succeeding in solving immediate crises.”
We would like to thank Noble for his outstanding service to ALTA and look forward to collaborating with him in the future.
A very special thank you to board member Nigel Baptiste for taking on the role of chairman from February.
A quick Google search of ‘literacy stats in Trinidad and Tobago’ will leave you pleasantly surprised, but also possibly confused about the need for an organization like ALTA. According to UNESCO statistics, since 1990 Trinidad and Tobago has enjoyed a steady growth in our already superb literacy rate which stood at 96.9% in 1990 and is recorded as 99% as of 2015.
On the other hand, the 1994 ALTA and 1995 University of the West Indies National Literacy Surveys show that 22-23% of our people aged 15 and over, are unable to cope with everyday reading and writing. That’s almost 1 in 4 Trinbagonians who were not literate. Although these surveys were done over a decade ago, it is highly unlikely that a survey today would reveal any positive change.
ALTA’s survey found that 8% of people over 15 years of age (which would have equated to 62,000 adults) could not read even 3 of these words: to, at, love, sun, bet. A further 15% of could only read a little, adding another 118,000 adults. According to these two surveys, at best, our literacy rate stood at 78% in 1995 with some 180,000 adults unable to cope with everyday basic reading and writing.
Why is there such a large disparity in the statistics? The answer lies in the way literacy is measured. According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, most countries gain information about literacy rates from years of schooling, a national household survey or census. The typical question asked is, ‘Can you read and write?’Given the stigma associated with not being literate, many people do not answer honestly producing unreliable statistics.
Further to this, the question “can you read and write?’ does not specify to what level. So someone who can only write their name and address and identify some words, may answer ‘yes’ but it would not be correct to say they are literate enough to function in our society, where they are faced with print at every turn – whether you are buying food or getting your driving licence.
As for the years of schooling, being enrolled in primary and even secondary school does not equate to being able to read and write. A look at SEA results is all you need to negate this. If not, consider that almost all students at ALTA’s literacy classes have attended primary school, and some have gone all the way through secondary school. There are a plethora of reasons ranging from dysfunctional homes to learning difficulties which have an impact on whether a child develops literacy.
Given the inaccuracy of the statistics, UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics has developed the Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP) which measures literacy on a continuum. LAMP is meant to develop a global methodological standard for measuring literacy in a way that can be compared across countries at different stages of development and literacy contexts. This is much more effective as it ensures that statistics are much more accurate.
ALTA has tackled our low literacy rate by providing free reading and writing classes to adults (16+) since 1992. Registration takes place in September.
Hidden treasure lies beneath the surface of Reading Circle, certainly a lot more than I anticipated. My experience at St. Anthony’s College on a Wednesday evening has led me to believe that Reading Circle is integral to the ALTA programme.
At first, I saw Reading Circle as an opportunity to get students to discover the joy of reading. We read books mostly from ALTA’s library, newspaper articles and we took turns to read inspirational stories which kept the students motivated. It was a time to learn about the life experiences of different people and broaden their horizons. The classes were stimulating and enjoyable as we would always take a few minutes to talk about triumph over difficulties and the soaring of the human spirit.
When students did not recognize a word, we would cover and reveal it syllable by syllable as we had been trained to do to show syllable division in action. Often we would come across phonics they had cards for, so we used the opportunity to reinforce the sound in the word. I observed that the students were more willing to plod through words when the story was interesting.
We would pause and discuss the reading material. They enjoyed the discussion particularly when they could relate to it. I noticed too that while reading they were automatically applying the phonics and internalizing other rules. On one occasion without any prompting, a student who had been struggling with suffixing pointed out the drop e rule as the words ‘drive’ and ‘driving’ had appeared in the same paragraph. This alerted me to the value of simply seeing the words in print and within the context of an interesting story. In the ALTA class, much time was spent on suffixing rules but here the student was able to spot the rule on her own when she discovered it in the passage. Application is a key stage of learning.
What then are the benefits of the Reading Circle? Reading for enjoyment in a relaxed setting allows students the opportunity to apply the skills acquired in the tutoring classes. They can apply rules and phonics much the same way we speak a language without consciously applying rules. During the reading process they get a chance to internalize the phonics as they listen to themselves. They absorb the sounds of the letters and this helps tremendously in sounding out words.
Like learning a new language, immersion integrates the skills learnt and makes the words come alive. For example, when the two sounds for ‘ow‘ appear in one sentence, the student combines the two skills of using context and phonics to make the right pronunciation reinforcing both skills. I strongly believe Reading Circle is the missing link for many students who may rattle off the phonic cards but are unable to apply this to read words.
Reading Circle caters to differing needs. One student repeated Level 2 several times but did not appear to be making progress. She has since stopped doing ALTA classes but attends Reading Circle twice a week going to two venues. She enjoys putting the syllables together and hearing herself string the words into sentences. She knew her phonics before, but seemed unable to apply them. She has definitely benefitted from Reading Circle. Though as she herself recognizes she is better on some days than on others, her reading has improved.
Another student, who moved up from Level 1 and is now in Level 2 for the first time, has been attending Reading Circle consistently. He is putting syllables and sounds together and his reading is progressing slowly, but steadily. I think he is definitely benefitting from Reading Circle. He now reads simple books from ALTA’s library quite fluently and this has been a boost to his confidence and self-esteem. He is aware of his improvement and this motivates him to press on. He is no longer daunted by long words, but will attempt to break them into syllables and sound them out.
Then there is a student who is repeating Level 2 and is now determined to move to Level 3. He is the best example of the benefits of Reading Circle. In his first year at Level 2 he missed a lot of the tutoring classes and there was not much improvement. Once he started Reading Circle however, his reading improved tremendously and he was himself amazed by his progress. This was a huge motivator for him and he comes consistently to classes both tutoring and Reading Circle.
It is interesting to note that once he began to string syllables into words, then words into sentences, he began reading with expression. On his own volition he would reread a sentence making the effort to change his intonation appropriately and pause at the end of a sentence. It is evident that his improvement in reading has impacted his writing skills. His spelling and his ability to express himself and get his thoughts to flow on paper has definitely improved. While reading, at times he would whip out a book and write words like ‘through’ and ‘thought’ and work out the difference. His progress has been quite impressive and the best part is that the more he improves, the more he pushes himself.
Rosemarie, an ALTA Reading Circle Guide has also been an ALTA Tutor since 2013.
Tell someone you know about Reading Circle! Encourage them to become a Reading Circle Guide. Our guides assist ALTA students with their reading in an informal setting once a week for two hours. We have venues in Port of Spain, East, Central and South Trinidad. Contact us for more information.
On Saturday March 12, 2016 ALTA hosted a Mental Health workshop for coordinators at our Belmont office training room. The workshop was led by Dr Peter Weller and Nisha Naira (Msc) who are both clinical psychologists. Many of our students have had very difficult home environments with both physical and psychological abuse, and tutors become aware of this through shared confidences or writing. We felt that it was in our best interest to provide some training for our coordinators to ensure they can spot behaviours that indicate risk to others and guidelines on how to deal with these.
Dr Weller gave clear guidelines on how tutors and coordinators should handle students in the classroom who may be dealing with mental health issues. He also stressed on the importance of setting boundaries when dealing with students, mentioning that due to the nature of ALTA classes there could be some instances of blurred boundaries if there was too much self disclosure on the part of the tutor. He spoke of creating healthy relationships by ensuring limits on interaction and that students know that that your involvement is temporary. After all, you are teaching them a life skill which should encourage autonomy and independence.
Dr Weller and Ms Naira also spoke about the characteristics of some mental illnesses and spoke about the importance of knowing the signs of distress and establishing screening, self-care and referral protocols which all ALTA coordinators and tutors should follow at all times. Dr. Weller gave an overview of the nature of mental health and the stressed that the diseases and their causes are as varied as the individuals coping with them, and that it is important, while keeping personal safety at the forefront, to treat others humanely.
In the follow up from the workshop ALTA will compile the protocol for review and adoption by the Association at the Tutor’s meeting on 25 June.
ALTA Online is benefiting from the infusion of new energy, with work beginning on Version 2 of the application under new developer Dacion. Armed with many lessons learnt from experience with the first version, which continues to be to used to shape the new programme, the new application offers ALTA an easy interface to upload and build lessons. Unlike Version 1, this application can be used on smartphones as well as PCs, laptops and tablets. Dacion is effectively building greater ALTA control of the final product into the design – making the programme more flexible and cost-effective – features that were previously unavailable.
As has always been the case in the ALTA family, resources are being pooled from within our ranks to get the job done. In our modified timeline, content development team is working towards completing the process, from design to upload, for testing with students by August, 2016 with launch at the start of January 2017. Further volunteer assistance is needed in these areas, so do contact Karelle at Belmont if you can assist with any of the following:
Some funds are available if necessary for the graphics and video elements. Demand for this virtual classroom, set to work alongside our traditional classes, continues to grow. This drives the team to push forward through the changes to create a stronger programme that can handle the needs of our users.We must thank our sponsor, Republic Bank Limited’s Power to Make a Difference initiative, for continuing to believe in our vision to expand our reach to improve reading skills locally, regionally and across the diaspora.
Anti-Stigma Campaign 2016
With help from Pepper Advertising and sponsorship from the Citizen Security Programme (CSP), our anti-stigma team has been putting together a campaign with the aim of targeting prospective students as well as the general public. Having tackled the issue of shame over the last year, we sought help from outside ALTA to chart the way forward. Our sincere thanks go to the following for responding to our call and sharing their ideas: Deborah Maillard, Jessie May Ventour, Judith Young, Vivianna Kelly, Hetty Sarjeant, Maureen Baldeo, Molly Stollmeyer, Sharon Cumberbatch, Raeanne Pierre-Watts and Kenneth Jaikaransingh.
Pepper’s expertise is transforming these ideas into media tools, the first of which is a radio ad campaign entitled ‘My Story’ which will tell stories highlighting the feelings of freedom, usefulness, pride, connectivity and achievement our students feel. It will also look at why people may not acquire reading and writing skills when they were younger, in an effort to increase public empathy and understanding.