ADDRESS TO UWI GRADUATES, CONFERRAL OF HONORARY DOCTORATE
Good morning. It is a great privilege to join the ranks of the graduates this morning and I extend my sincere thanks to the University of the West Indies for the conferral of this honour. I also extend my congratulations to the graduates. For each of you, today celebrates the achievement of a goal, but a goal often set by others or by expectations. From now on, you choose.
When in 1990 I chose to work as a volunteer adult literacy tutor, it was in line with what I’d done before, but I found myself on my own, without curriculum or books, with adult learners looking to me to teach them to read, and other volunteers expecting me to teach them to teach.
I faced a new choice.
Almost three decades later, what do I see as the key to successfully forging a new path?
On his visit to Trinidad some years ago, author Richard Gerver made a statement that has stayed with me. He said that to change an underperforming school you need “a vision powerful enough to engage people”. Should you decide to make a new path, this is what you need: a vision powerful enough to engage people.
For a powerful vision and purpose that they believe in, people will work hard, some without pay. 2018 marks ALTA’s 25th year, and for our new tutors to understand ALTA’s heritage and culture, tutors who had over many years given more than classroom teaching spoke about their ALTA experience. I was surprised that tutor after tutor said the same thing: they got a phone call from Paula to ask them to take on more than they had signed on for, and they said ‘yes’.
What made them say ‘yes’ though they didn’t intend to? What made them say ‘yes’ again and again?
They said ‘yes’ because they believed in ALTA and in its higher purpose, trusting that what they were asked to do was important and would bring positive change; knowing that they wouldn’t be on their own, that we would be doing this together.
ALTA has been able to engage high calibre people as tutors, staff, board members and partners. ALTA’s vision is powerful enough to engage people.
So the doctorate may be in my name, but it’s shared by some 3,000 tutors and 15,000 students. If our students didn’t take that scary step into an ALTA class, there would be no ALTA.
Although you are at the top of the education ladder and ALTA students on the first rung, an ALTA certificate is much like the certificate you receive today.
What will you choose? What vision will engage you? Or will you create a vision to engage others?
As a child of independence, when I left university I was fully engaged by the powerful vision of nation building. So were many of my friends. I taught at Senior Comp, friends worked in the hospital, state enterprises and ministries. Sooner or later, we all left and for the same reason – decisions governed by votes at the next election. Politics invaded to erode the integrity and quality of the nation’s institutions and made our efforts futile.
Here’s one example from education. The abolition of the Common Entrance exam was announced by Basdeo Panday on a political platform in Princes Town. He declared that he would put an end to the 11+ trauma. Politics was the driver of universal secondary education.
In early 2,000 before the first SEA exam, the Chief Education Officer asked to meet to discuss what ALTA could offer as those in education were well aware that several thousand students who were not literate would be entering secondary school. ALTA submitted a proposal and mobilised. No word came.
In the 18 years since, ALTA has built a national adult literacy programme and, with NALIS, Youth Lit for under 16s. As ALTA stuck firmly to our course, a stream of initiatives in education came and went, as each was about the big launch – not implementation. Politics again.
18 years later students continue to enter secondary schools barely able to read, and exit five years later with the same low literacy, but now with an entrenched feeling of being outside of society. Anger pervades our secondary schools; anger wrought by extreme frustration. Why else would teens place their ‘school feeding’ lunch on the overhead fans to interrupt the secondary education so prized by their parents? What did the group of teens who set fire to their school have in common? Not one of them could read. Without provision for those with no aptitude for literacy, universal secondary education is destroying trust in our schools, and eroding belief in the value of education. Our schools no longer engage people.
Why didn’t we ‘say no’ when a politician dictated education policy?
In the early 1970s, Finland had an underperforming education system. Then they took education out of politics. They embarked on a long-term policy to develop a professional body of educators, and then turned over the decisions to the teachers. Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity.
More than 40 years ago, the Finns recognised that there is no place for politics in education. Isn’t it time we took politics out of education? And out of other areas? Since independence, successive governments have taught us that we can neither trust their vision nor their purpose. Our politicians fail to engage people.
So why do we look to government to lead and bring positive change? It is time to be independent – to look to ourselves to effect positive change. It is time to build alternatives that are independent of government. ALTA is one such alternative – so it can be done.
I leave you with a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés which captures the ALTA experience:
“What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.”
Be among that small, determined group who will not give up.
Earlier this year, Leslie Ann Murray reached out to ALTA indicating her desire to volunteer with the organisation on a short term basis. Leslie Ann is a writer and educator based in Paris who will publish her first book of stories soon! In the month of June, Leslie-Ann visited six Reading Circles at five venues: NALIS (morning + afternoon), St George’s College Barataria, Arima Boys’ R.C. School, ALTA Office Belmont and Holy Saviour Curepe. The feedback was excellent; both tutors and students enjoyed her work immensely. Before leaving, Leslie Ann left a note to all Reading Circle Guides and student:
“From the bottom of my heart of hearts, thank your for a wonderful month at ALTA Reading Circle. Your feedback, support, and questions about my upcoming short story collection were intelligent and engaging. I left each Reading Circle session feeling empowered and encouraged.” – Leslie Ann
Make your way to Harris Promenade. ALTA’s Office is on the 3rd Floor of the St Paul’s Anglican Church
Over the past twenty five years Alta has had great impact on people around the country who have gone on to gain full time employment, CSEC passes and self-confidence through the programme. Alta has also had significant impact on families. By working with parents who are non-readers, the programme has often also taught their children to read, write and spell. The column today tells the story of how the programme impacts families. Kernisha Skeete daughter of past ALTA student Jackie Skeete shares her story.
She couldn’t read but for the sake of my education she went back to school. Some say I taught my momma to read but the reality is she taught me. She allowed me to spend my evenings at the library, so late they had to ask me to leave. My mother went out of her way to ensure I went to school whether we had money or not. My mother taught me the importance of education as she attended Alta classes at various locations in Arima. I grew up attending [Alta] field trips and gaining new aunties and uncles as she progressed through each level, sometimes doing one level multiple times.
As I observed my mother persevere to one day write post primary examinations after completing Alta’s Level 3, I gained an appreciation for education. She continuously reminded me of the importance of acquiring an education and explained to me how it would impact my life. As a child, I listened, not fully grasping the significance of her words. As she practiced her syllables, vocabulary and spellings, I practiced too. In retrospect, I can say ALTA taught us both. Her cards were my cards, her books were my leisure reading. I love to read and seeing my mother progress from a struggling student to someone who was able to stand before a crowd and read fluently marveled me. Seeing her progress from spelling words completely different to their actual spelling to minor misspellings touched my life in a way I cannot translate into words.
The tutors of Alta played a significant role in my mother’s learning as they inspired her with each session: they encouraged, applauded and corrected her as necessary. When an external issue impacted her learning, they sat and listened patiently to ensure she was able to learn without hindrance.
I would not be where I am had my mother not seen the importance of education. I may not have performed as well as I did in SEA had it not been for our attendance at Alta classes. Alta, like a number of persons and institutions, has contributed to our lives in ways we simply cannot pinpoint because we have gained in almost every area of our lives from what many may consider as just a class.
My mummy, My hero, My role model.
Kernisha is currently a fourth year medical student. Her mom passed away some years ago. She was a market vendor during the day and an Alta student on evenings. Unfortunately she didn’t live to see her daughter enroll in medical school.
Volunteer, Donate or Sponsor-a-student. Call 621-5708 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: ALTA
The Republic Bank Limited sponsored ALTA Reading Circles are an informal space for ALTA students to practice their reading with assistance from Reading Circle Guides. Reading Circles are meant to support students who need extra assistance with reading skills as ALTA community classes focus on overall literacy rather than solely reading skills.
In March, the Marketing Department at Mario’s Pizzeria contacted ALTA with the hope of supporting our literacy programme. After just one meeting, Readings and Pizzas was born! After a wildly successful Readings Under the Trees event in celebration of our 25th anniversary – #ALTA25 – we decided to bring local authors into select Reading Circles to share their work over Mario’s sponsored pizzas with ALTA tutors and student. The event was a great success at every ALTA Reading Circle Mario’s visited.
ALTA would like to thank Mario’s Pizzeria Limited for reaching out and partnering with us to make the Reading Circle an even more exciting experience for our students. They always appreciate listening to work from local authors. Having the opportunity to chat with them over yummy pizza was a plus! We also thank authors, Rafael Sookram and Lyndon Baptiste for volunteering their time to ALTA!
March 2018 was a big month for ALTA! It saw the realisation of three successful anniversary events after months of meetings and coordination. Our East Sports Day, North Readings Under the Trees and South/Central Fun, Food and Frolic Day were all well supported, ran smoothly and were enjoyed by all who attended.
ALTA Tutors and Guides in the East and Mid- East Regions kicked off the 25 anniversary celebrations with a Sports Day at the Lopinot Historical Complex ,in the scenic Lopinot Valley on Saturday March 10, 2018. Students and tutors from venues throughout the two regions participated in the fun filled events.
The St George’s College venue team emerged the overall winners having won the most events. Two of their students were awarded prizes for the best male and female participant and their tutors were triumphant in events as well. Special thanks goes to the Reading Circle guides from the Holy Saviour venue for officiating the proceedings, Sue Ann Sui Chock for the preparation and execution of the events, our master of ceremony, Bettina Dyer who did a marvelous job without a microphone, Veronica Fongyt for the opening prayer, Lystra Hazarie for her presentation on ALTA’s history and Carolyn Walker -Hepburn for managing the event. From securing the use of the facilities to relaying information about the sports to each venue, Carolyn assisted greatly!
One week later the North/North West region of ALTA tutors welcomed authors such as Michael Anthony, Lisa Allen Agostini and Judy Raymond,joined by newly published writers such as Kevin Jared Hosein, Breanne McIvor and Judith Theodore to an afternoon of Readings Under the Trees. Authors read under select trees at the Gardens and were joined by ALTA tutors and students who read both original and published pieces of work.
Members of the public were invited to come listen to the readings and contribute during the open mike sessions. Children were also welcomed as there was a special area for them with readings from children authors Jeunanne Alkins and Al Ramsawack and literacy games. It was a great afternoon and ALTA has decided to make it into an annual event.
Our final ALTA 25 event was hosted by our South/Central Tutors at Guaracara Park in Pointe a Pierre on Saturday March 24, 2018. It was a day of sharing and caring with ALTA students, present and past tutors and their friends and families. There were at least 500 people there. The day started with a look at ALTA’s history for the past 25 years and then some tutors and students sharing what ALTA meant to them. This was followed by food sampling as all the venues brought different local delicacies to share; from fish broth to roti, kurma to ‘phonic’ cupcakes – there was a lot of food! Then it was time for the games which catered to both children and adults. Tutors took traditional games and gave them a literacy twist. There was bingo, cricket, ‘make the word’ competitions. ALTA’s South/Central tutors are looking forward to more events like this in the future!
Have a read of ALTA’s annual report which was presented to the membership at the annual general meeting in October 2017. As ALTA celebrates its 25th anniversary and looks toward the next twenty five years, energy has been focussed on these three areas:
In order to spread awareness of the programme and ensure that the messages being spread are deemed as important, ALTA felt it important that the organisation remain relevant in the minds of the public. An important step in remaining relevant is establishing and maintaining a strong brand presence. All the advice received said that ALTA’s logo needed to be updated. The black and white logo served well in the largely print medium of the first 25 years, but doesn’t work as well on the screens of phones, tablets and computers. After much discussion and varied design ideas, it was Keya Marketing who came up with a logo. The logo is meant to reflect youth, vitality, relationship building, transformation and social movement.
Additionally, given economic constraints, it was important that ALTA find cost effective ways to advertise tutor recruitment, student registration and promote awareness of ALTA. This led to a stronger focus on social media networks. Putting content on social media has little impact unless you have the network to read and spread this. Building this network has been the big success of the last year. Over the past year, ALTA’s Communication Manager has created content which has caught people’s interest and gained followers in the crowded social media world.
ALTA has almost tripled the number of followers on Facebook going from 2500 followers last year to 6300 followers currently. This means that information about ALTA is more likely to be seen by persons in T&T and the diaspora without ALTA paying for them to see it. ALTA has also used Twitter to reach out to partners and other NGOs to advertise programmes, donation and volunteering opportunities and create linkages to maximize reach. In the past year ALTA has gained 84 new followers. Instagram has also been used to share current happenings at ALTA – in the past year the following on Instagram has also increased.
ALTA’s strategic networking online has not wavered offline networking. A strong relationship with Movie Towne has resulted in the student recruitment ad being played in their cinemas for more than a year and Caribbean Cinemas 8 supported the recently concluded Student Registration campaign by playing advertisements in their cinemas gratis in August 2017. ALTA is greatly appreciative of the role both the Citizen Security Programme and Pepper Advertising played in the creation and dissemination of communication material. The new relationship with Digicel Foundation will also enable the production and sharing of vital communication material with larger more diverse audiences in the coming months.
Additionally, this year ALTA continued with the aim of year-round student outreach. Regional Coordinators took up the challenge to conduct at least two instances of outreach in their regions every month. ALTA Ambassadors along with Regional Coordinators conducted numerous instances of Outreach at health centres, schools, workplaces, community meetings, youth groups and churches. If you know of any community event which ALTA can attend and spread awareness of the programme, please do not hesitate to contact any ALTA office.
Every year ALTA conducts two campaigns; student recruitment and tutor recruitment. In order to stay relevant and minimalize cost, this year ALTA took the decision to focus communication messages on radio and social media and didn’t have print ads. This resulted in successful and cost effective Tutor Recruitment and Student Registration campaigns in the past year. The Student Registration campaign themed “Live Your Best Life with ALTA” used radio scripts from 2016 (funded by CSP) as well as ALTA Ambassador John Bascombe, an ALTA Graduate who is currently enrolled in law school.
Preliminary figures for this academic year indicate that 1,451 students are attending classes, 641 of whom are new students. This figure exceeds the 1,179 as of this period last year and 1,142 of 2015. ALTA continues to accept students into classes with available space, via phone or walk-ins. This shows that as much as ALTA continues to battle stigma, the number of students making the decision to come to the community classes is still growing.
The continued support of the fifty ALTA classes around the country comes from ALTA’s class sponsors for 2016/17 – Republic Bank, United Way of Trinidad and Tobago, The National Gas Company of T&T, Price Philanthropies Foundation, Phoenix Park Gas Processors, First Caribbean International Bank, Kapok and Mr. Hamilton Padmore.
Unfortunately this year ALTA’s Cascade class was discontinued because of the repeated small student numbers. In 1994, the St Ann’s/Cascade Motivational Programme became the second venue to host an ALTA class. ALTA thanks Noreen De La Rosa, board member of this centre, for not only providing this venue for 20 plus years but for also teaching and coordinating this class.
Aside from community classes where students focus on their literacy, ALTA also provides a Spelling Programme for students who wish to focus on this aspect of their literacy growth. This programme continues its steady growth for yet another year with the Port of Spain venue having the largest number with well over 40 students. The demand was so great that past tutors had to be called back to active duty.
Last year, ALTA was able to successfully restart the programme in Grenada. Fortunately classes continue there with students completing their first academic year in early December followed by the recruitment of new students by the end of the year. Their new academic year will thus begin in January 2018.
With over fifty classes around the country, it is important to have a clear organizational structure. Each region in Trinidad is managed by ALTA Regional Coordinators who all report to ALTA’s CEO. This year ALTA has taken the decision to implement a National Coordinator who will manage all ALTA programmes around the country. This ensures that the CEO can focus on internal matters and ALTA Online. Lystra Hazarie has been appointed ALTA’s new National Coordinator. Lystra will be immersed in all aspects of programme development and management in the coming years.
For the first time this year, ALTA decided to advertise the NALIS Youth Lit Programme for youth 10-15 via social media. There was an overwhelming response to the registration with 229 students assessed. Unfortunately, given resource constraints, many of the students could not be accommodated. The response however shows that the ALTA brand is strong and that there is an overwhelming unmet need for ALTA among those in the 10-15 age group.
In order to keep tutors and the ALTA programme up to date, every year ALTA conducts refresher training for continuing tutors, as well as a Tutor meeting with current tutors to update them on all things ALTA. This year ALTA welcomed guest speaker Cathryn Kelshall of the Dyslexia Association who did a presentation on Dyslexia in the ALTA classroom. As a mentor to ALTA from the early years, Cathyrn matched research and teaching approaches to ALTA’s tutor and student experience. Tutors got a better of understanding of their dyslexic students and why particular activities are necessary in the ALTA classroom. Based on Cathryn’s advice, a new spelling element was introduced at this year’s refresher tutor training and implemented in ALTA classrooms for this academic year.
For the past 25 years, ALTA has committed to training at most 100 tutors annually. This year, 95 participants started the training course and 86 successfully completed the sessions. These tutors are currently completing their first term of teaching at classes around the country.
As ALTA looks toward the future, one of the things that became apparent was that the organisation needed a strategic plan. In April 2017, ALTA was fortunate to be guided by professionals from Deloitte who helped the management team develop a strategic plan. Ravi Rampersad, Marshall Ogle and Salaina Jagroop from Deloitte conducted two gratis workshops with ALTA which led to a now implemented plan which will guide ALTA’s work for the next three years.
Republic Bank-sponsored ALTA Online is ALTA’s signature project, the most innovative product since the development of the ALTA programme itself, in that it has the potential to bring reading instruction not just to Trinidad but the whole Caribbean and beyond – indeed anywhere reached by the internet.
Mid-year design and staff changes meant that ALTA adjusted the timeline, so the goal for October 2017 was to produce the first three lessons in Book 1 for Level 1. ALTA is proud to have achieved this major milestone in this difficult project. Testing of lessons 1-3 by the extended tutor team is complete, so the team is now set to move on to external testing. ALTA Online has been a moving target, however the challenges have served as the building blocks of a product that will better meet the needs of present and future students.
ALTA looks forward to launching ALTA Online in the near future!
In celebration of Alta’s 25th anniversary, Alta students around the country were asked to write about the impact the organisation has had on their lives. Since 1992, Alta has provided classes around the country for thousands of Trinidadians who struggle with reading and writing. Alta students enrol in the programme at many different levels of literacy and leave when they have accomplished their literacy goals. While it is difficult to manage work and family life alongside Alta classes, students continue to persevere and in all cases see changes in their lives after attending Alta classes. In the coming weeks, Alta will share their pieces through this column. This week, three students from the St George’s College, Barataria venue share how Alta has impacted their lives.
Student Name: Calvin
“For the past 17 years, I have been a stubborn mule. I keep going back and forth [with] learning to read and spell. Alta has given me that opportunity and [now] I am going ahead. I am very slow in learning the sounds of the vowels and the sight words. Alta is the best programme for people like me, who do not have the patience to learn in school. Yes it can be embarrassing to be an adult who cannot read or spell, but if you want to better your life, [this] programme is giving us that opportunity once more in life. For 17 years, I have been seeing classes starting off full and at the end of the year only three or four remain. Alta will push you forward in life but you will have to know if you want to go forward.
Sometimes it is good to [repeat a level] to make sure you understand the work because you do not want to drop out at another level and throw away the opportunity Alta is giving you. So come aboard people and enjoy the opportunity. I can guarantee that if you stick to it you will enjoy it at the end of the race.”
Student Name: Ricardo
“I felt I could never take part in my own business. Now that I am going to Alta I feel more in control of my job. At work I am being asked to help other employee fill out their forms. I feel much more helpful and I want to give back to Alta by spreading the good news to some of my staff who needs help.”
Student Name: Natisha
“Before I came to Alta I was not able to read and write [or] sound out words. I used to feel so sad [and] hopeless. I never think I will ever get the chance to go back to school until I saw a post on Facebook; “ALTA learn to read and write.” I start to jump up and down; I was so excited and happy. I was finally getting a second chance. Alta changed my life in so many ways, I am spelling much better [and] reading and writing much better than before. Also I am sounding out words I never thought I [would] be able to sound out by myself. Thanks to all the hard working teachers at Alta. ”
In celebration of Alta’s 25th anniversary, Alta students around the country were asked to write about the impact the organisation has had on their lives. Since 1992, Alta has provided classes around the country for thousands of Trinidadians who struggle with reading and writing. Alta students enrol in the programme at many different levels of literacy and leave when they have accomplished their literacy goals. While it is difficult to manage work and family life alongside Alta classes, students continue to persevere and in all cases see changes in their lives after attending Alta classes. In the coming weeks, Alta will share their pieces through this column. This week, two students from the NALIS Port of Spain venue share how Alta has impacted their lives.
Student Name: Kernal
Class Venue: NALIS
“In the beginning I was afraid and nervous to let anyone outside of my family know that I’m having problems reading and spelling. So I wasn’t willing to seek out any help. One day my sister was going through Facebook and saw an article someone wrote about Alta and she forwarded the link to me and she encourage me to join Alta (which I did).
On the first day of Alta class I went into the class room nervous because I did not know what to expect, but when the tutors came in the classroom they introduce themselves and they welcome us with open arms and they didn’t treat any of us differently because of our reading problems, but instead they treated all of us like family.
Each week on Mondays and Wednesdays between the hours of 9am to 11am all the students are like brothers and sisters and the tutors are like our parents who just want their children to do well and succeed in life.
I’ve benefitted so far from the Alta classes because now I’m a little more confident in myself and now I know once I complete the full course I’ll be able to move on and do over some CXC subjects, staring with English. I’m 25 years of age and I have a son that looks up to me so I need to better myself as an individual in order for me to raise a good man. My dream is to own my own business and also to help out people who have problems reading and writing, just as how Alta helps me. I’ll advise anyone to join Alta at once because it will make a difference in their lives.”
Name – A. Roberts
Venue – NALIS
“Alta changed my life significantly in every way; I had problems with pronouncing some words properly. Alta taught me how to break down words and how to use syllables so I could pronounce and spell a little better. I was taught also to write better, read stories etc. The teachers have a lot of patience. They make sure that you understand everything they taught. I am happy that I made the right choice to attend Alta class. Thank you to my tutors.”