The Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) was founded in 1992 by Paula Lucie-Smith. In 1990, International Literacy Year, Paula participated in the volunteer adult literacy programme established by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. When the programme ended in December 1990, Paula continued running an adult literacy class in Woodbrook. The class attracted students not only from Woodbrook but from other parts of the country.

In October 1992, Paula founded ALTA to bring together adult literacy teachers to share ideas and materials as well as to direct students to teachers close to their home or work.

However, those who joined ALTA wanted training in how to teach adult literacy and access adult literacy books, magazines and teaching aids from the Caribbean and beyond. In January 1993, ALTA established a teacher resource library with materials from literacy publishers and programmes around the world, including the UK, United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

In April 1993, ALTA began to train adult literacy tutors. Working with British and American training packages and videos (UK Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, Literacy Volunteers of America), adult literacy tutors, Paula Lucie-Smith and Hilary Montgomery, aided by local reading professionals, Wallis Wyke and Zena Puddy, developed a pilot training course. Today, ALTA trains more than 100 tutors every year.

ALTA 20th Anniversary Function & Long Service Award Recipients, 2012

In the early days, since teaching materials were needed, ALTA volunteers Paula Lucie-Smith, Hilary Montgomery and Marie-Louise Brown-Dottin began to compile their lessons into books, thus creating the ALTA Adult Workbook series.

As of 2005, ALTA had published 60 books, ranging from 8-page ‘predictable readers’ for beginners to the 110-page Tutor Training Handbook. ALTA has also produced a set of local board games - the ALTA Caribbean 6-in-1 Game Pack. This game pack was launched in 2002, the year of ALTA’s 10th anniversary.


To attract students, ALTA launched the first national student registration on International Literacy Day, September 8th, 1994.  Along with prospective students, key persons in the field of literacy were invited to ALTA’s Open Day. Pamella Benson and Lynette Commissiong, who then headed the Trinidad and Tobago public library system, attended, and on that day the partnership between ALTA and the libraries was forged.  From the following year 1995, every September students have been able to register at libraries throughout Trinidad and Tobago for ALTA classes, creating a truly national student registration.                                                               


By September 1995, there were official ALTA classes. ALTA was no longer just a teachers’ association, but was responsible for running classes. As such, ALTA began to provide supplies for teachers and students.

Teachers now receive supplies ranging from a blackboard duster and chalk to pre-cut cards for games and printed phonic and sight-word cards for each student. Tutors also have a tutor’s book with detailed lesson plans and guidance on how to teach every aspect of each lesson. Also available for class use are wooden alphabets, sets of dictionaries and high-interest, low-level readers for students who want extra reading practice. To ensure quality teaching at all venues, an experienced ALTA tutor, called the Class Coordinator, is assigned to each class to guide the volunteer tutors. This tutor visits the class at least once a month and gives practical assistance in the classroom.


In 1994, with the assistance of Market Facts and Opinions, ALTA carried out the first National Literacy Survey in Trinidad & Tobago. The results, published in January 1995, revealed a major literacy problem among the adult population. These results were later supported by a UNESCO-sponsored survey, conducted in December 1995. Both surveys found that 22-23%, or 1 out of 4 persons in Trinidad and Tobago, were unable to cope with basic everyday reading and writing.

ALTA founder, Paula Lucie-Smith, and Board member Rhona Harris
present the ALTA National Literacy Survey to Pamella Benson, Head of Libraries


As ALTA established itself on the national level, employers began to seek its services in improving the literacy level of employees. In April 1998, ALTA established a Workplace Education Branch with guidance from Kaye Grose, a volunteer of Canadian Executive Services Overseas (CESO). Kaye conducted two 4-day training courses in developing and implementing a workplace literacy programme. Ginnie Denny, from Workbase (New Zealand), held a 1-day workshop in November 2004. Experienced ALTA tutor, trainer, coordinator and office manager, Arlene Wallace-Romero, now runs this branch of ALTA.


In January 2000, after six years of fundraising and three different temporary locations, ALTA purchased a building at 84 Belmont Circular Road, Belmont, in East Port of Spain and converted it from a grocery/residence to the ALTA administrative offices and Training Centre.


With the move to Belmont, teachers from the schools around the ALTA office appealed for help with teaching reading in their schools. Since ALTA does not provide free classes for anyone under the age of 16, a sponsored project was developed to serve the needs of our home community.

In 2002, the Embassy of Japan and British Petroleum of T&T (bpTT) funded a one-year pilot project to train interested teachers from ten primary and seven secondary schools in the ALTA teaching approach, and to provide free ALTA books and learning aids to complete one ALTA literacy level for those children experiencing reading problems. Forty-two (42) teachers were trained in 2002, with most of them implementing the ALTA Programme in their schools. With no support from the Ministry of Education, only Aranguez Junior Secondary, Belmont Junior Secondary and Melville Memorial School continued with the ALTA programme when funding for materials ran out.

The ALTA Programme was also successfully used to teach students aged 10-15 years in a Rotary-sponsored project for out-of-school children (2000-2002), and, since 2004, in a Coca Cola-sponsored programme at Credo Centre, All-in-One Child Development Centre and Holy Name Training Centre. Youth aged 16-25 years use the ALTA Programme at the Servol Skills Training Programme and at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

National Library and Information System (NALIS) Youth Lit Programme

In 2008 NALIS Youth Lit was launched to provide effective literacy instruction to school students aged 16 and under whose literacy needs were not being addressed. The after-school programme was designed for students ages 9-11 (Standard 4) or 12-15 (Form 1 or 2) and attracted great interest, but numbers were limited by the small size of available space and the ALTA ratio of no more than eight students per teacher.


In January 1998, at the request of prison authorities, ALTA volunteers began teaching Port of Spain prison inmates who wanted to improve their literacy. In 2001, on the initiative of prison officers, ALTA conducted a tutor-training course at Carrera Island Prison for fifteen (15) literate inmates. The success of this programme led to its extension in the three other prisons: Golden Grove Men’s Prison, Golden Grove Women’s Prison and the Maximum Security Prison at Arouca. By 2002, fifty-eight (58) trained volunteer ALTA inmate-tutors were teaching the non-literate inmates to read and write.

Tutor training, materials and on-going ALTA guidance were initially sponsored by the IADB, the British High Commission, Caribbean Money Market Managers and Imjin Security. As these funding sources dried up, ALTA appealed to the government to include literacy in the budget for prison rehabilitation. Some funds were eventually received from Government in June 2005 and ALTA resumed the programme in September 2005.


  • Paula Lucia-Smith, ALTA CEO & Founder, was awarded the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT)'s Woman of Influence - Social Entrepreneur Award, 2013
  • Hyatt Regency Trinidad awarded ALTA a US$5,000 Community Grant, 2012
  • Paula Lucie-Smith, ALTA CEO & Founder, received the Anthony N. Sabga  Laureate for Public and Civic Work, 2012
  • Hilton Icon Award, 2006
  • Paula Lucie-Smith, ALTA CEO & Founder, inducted into St. Joseph's Convent Hall of Excellence, 2003
  • bpTT Leader Awards 2002: Winner – Youth in Education Category
  • Hummingbird Medal Gold: awarded to Paula Lucie-Smith in August, 2001
  • Amoco Energy – Leader Awards 1998: Social Support Services Category