How was ALTA started?

ALTA was stared in 1992 by Paula Lucie-Smith, a national scholar and former secondary school teacher. In 1990, Paula Lucie-Smith attended three days of a two-week course by the Ministry of Education in partnership with UNESCO as part of COMILYTT, the Committee for International Literacy Year, Trinidad & Tobago. Volunteers who attended the course were assigned to Woodbrook Secondary where they were expected to teach adult literacy.

Fortunately, Paula heard about her assignment to teach from a newspaper ad and turned up to teach in the second week of the class, despite having missed a large part of the course due to illness. At the class, Paula found students not only from Woodbrook but other parts of the country, but neither she nor the other tutors had been given any materials to teach.

The situation demanded that the tutors be creative. In the two years that followed, Paula used what she learned from her study at Leicester University and from the Dyslexia Association (Dyslexia Association Training in Methods for Teaching Dyslexics) training, to come up with a structure she could use for the classes. ALTA was founded in 1992 to bring together these adult literacy teachers to share ideas and materials as well as to direct students to teachers close to their home or work.

Who is behind the ALTA Programme?

ALTA is managed by a CEO and an elected Board which comprises members of ALTA’s tutor body and key partners in ALTA’s mission. ALTA members meet annually to elect a Board, review the organisation’s annual financial statements and plan its year of operations.

What were the main challenges when ALTA began?

The first challenge was that everyone thought Trinidad & Tobago had 98% literacy so why bother for just 2% of the population who probably were unable to learn anyway. Who would support a programme that addresses a problem that does not exist? Thus ALTA had to do the national literacy survey which, although it didn’t mobilise resources towards literacy as hoped, did give ALTA a solid statistical base. Very gradually opinion has begun to question literacy rates in the 90s, still quoted by government.  

ALTA had to build a programme from scratch as there was no national adult literacy programme in Trinidad & Tobago and very little in the Caribbean. Adults with poor reading and writing skills often could only find remedial English classes where they were taught parts of speech when they needed to learn how to recognise and spell words. Since the biggest barrier to progress in education is changing current practice, this vacuum in adult literacy gave ALTA the freedom to create a programme to meet student needs.

Do you have governmental or other institutional support?

ALTA is a registered charitable organisation and receives funding largely from individuals, corporate sponsors and partners. While ALTA sometimes engages in projects initiated by government agencies ALTA has never, in its 23 year history, received government funding to pursue its operations and remains independent of political alliances on a partisan level, as a member of civil society/NGO.

How does someone become a member of ALTA?

Certified tutors and assistant tutors may apply for ALTA membership after completing 150 hours volunteer service and continuing as a volunteer tutor. The annual subscription is TT$30, renewable at the Annual General Meeting in late October.

How many people have benefited from the ALTA Programme?

In its 23 years of existence ALTA has trained hundreds of literacy tutors in Trinidad & Tobago, St Vincent, Antigua and Grenada and enrols approximately 2,000 adult literacy students through community classes or project partnerships each year.

At the request of school principals, the ALTA programme has also been introduced and successfully piloted in several schools, including Mayaro Composite, Guayaguayare High School, St. Augustine Senior Sec & Melville Memorial Anglican Primary School. Extending its reach beyond those who are over 16, more than 100 students aged 9-15 benefit from ALTA’s Youth Lit Programme, a partnership with the national libraries since 2010. More details of ALTA’s impact can be found in 2012 Impact Survey.

How is ALTA different from other literacy programmes offered?

ALTA offers the only comprehensive, structured, adult literacy programme in Trinidad and Tobago. All materials and books are written specifically for learners in the Caribbean whose linguistic background has been influenced by the presence of a Creole mother-tongue and whose culture/landscape are absent from other literacy programmes.

Above all, ALTA is about taking away the walls that box non-readers into the very small world of the familiar; moving from dependent to independent; transforming lives not just for this generation, but for the next. In Trinidad, the term “illiterate” encompasses much more than an inability to read or write which is one reason why it is a word never used at ALTA.



What is required to become a volunteer?

ALTA has a range of volunteer opportunities with teaching being the most demanding in terms of time, learning new skills and being able to create an environment where non-readers feel at ease and encouraged. Click here for ways to volunteer.

When are volunteers trained?

ALTA’s Tutor Training Course is conducted over 6 days from 8 am – 4 pm, one day per week for six weeks, and starts on the Saturday following the start of the school term. The course is offered in three locations – Belmont (Saturdays), Arima (Tuesdays) and San Fernando (Thursdays), each limited to 36 participants.

Who conducts training for volunteers?

ALTA’s training team comprises experienced tutors, led by Paula Lucie-Smith and Lystra Hazarie who have been instrumental in creating and refining the ALTA Programme and Training course materials.

At the end of 2015, ALTA will have conducted:
• 60 Tutor Training Courses for volunteer tutors
• 2 for the Ministry of Education in 1995
• 5 for Servol (1995-8, 2003)
• 2 for teachers in primary and secondary schools
• 5 for prison inmates
• 7 in Grenada for NEWLO (New Life Organisation) and the Ministry of Gender and Family Affairs
• 2 in St. Vincent and one in Antigua

Do volunteers receive a stipend?

No. Volunteers are unpaid. Volunteers who agree to be trained are asked to pay a refundable deposit of $100 and buy the course handbook ($60).

ALTA successfully manages over 300 volunteers teaching at 50 venues across Trinidad, providing support with teaching aids suited to the needs of students, course content and coordinators at the class level to guide and direct the delivery of the programme, which is a costly undertaking.

I cannot commit to teaching twice a week. Can I still volunteer at ALTA?

Yes. ALTA needs volunteers to assist students at our Reading Circles and at ALTA Online access centres. Clerical assistance is also needed from time to time. Contact us if you or your organisation would like to volunteer.

Can I be trained without volunteering to teach at ALTA?

No. After training, new tutors are assigned to an ALTA class which serves as a practicum for the in-course training. In order to be certified as an adult literacy tutor course participants must complete written, graded assignments between course days and 150 hours of volunteer teaching.

Will I receive a certificate if I completed ALTA training but was not able to teach?

No. Training course participants must complete 150 hours of volunteer teaching before they are awarded a certificate.

If I was once an ALTA tutor, how do I recommit to ALTA?

ALTA tutors who have been out of the classroom for less than 5 years can return to volunteer tutoring after completing a one-day refresher session in August. Those away from ALTA for longer than 5 years are usually asked to redo the training as ALTA is a dynamic programme which changes to meet student needs and incorporate new teaching methods.  



How do I become an ALTA student?

Register for ALTA at NALIS libraries on the first Tuesday or Wednesday in September or visit an ALTA class venue in the month of September to begin. Please bring along a valid form of ID.

How do students know about your classes?

ALTA announces student registration via media advertisements, posters and community announcements. Registration at libraries always takes place on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week of school in September every year, but anyone can visit an ALTA class venue in the month of September if they wish to join the class. Students also recommend ALTA to friends and relatives, which is an excellent testimony of the value they find in the experience.

Is the ALTA Programme free?

Tuition for ALTA is FREE for all students enrolled in community classes. Students pay $20TT per term for an ALTA Adult Workbook and other materials like phonics cards, etc.

Can I register for someone else who is unable to visit a public library in September?

No. ALTA expects that students will be involved and willing to attend literacy classes. Registration takes place all day (8am-6pm) on the first Tuesday and Wednesday in September, where potential students are welcome to register and select which class to attend.

I can read a little. How do I know if I need the ALTA Programme?

If you have difficulty with daily reading, writing or spelling for example, filling out a form, reading notices, writing a message, you can visit an ALTA venue on the first day of class to be assessed. ALTA literacy tutors will conduct a brief assessment of your reading level and direct you to an appropriate class. NOTE: Assessment is not a Test. Students are placed in an ALTA class based on their ability to complete tasks which require literacy.

Do your classes operate night and day, 7 days a week?

Class days and times vary from venue to venue to accommodate students’ schedules and volunteer availability. Classes are typically conducted between Mon-Fri and end no later than 7pm. ALTA currently has no weekend classes.

Where are ALTA classes located?

See a list of class locations here.

Are there any classes in Tobago?

No. Currently there are no class venues in Tobago.



Do you ever accept young people of high school age in your classes?

Yes. In the cases where students are over the age of 16, they are able to attend an ALTA class at a community venue. Students under 15 can access ALTA’s Youth Lit programme offered at selected NALIS libraries.

Do students also get work to do at home?

No. Adult learners have many demands on their time and so, homework doesn’t “work”. Two hours, twice-a-week in class serves as the basis of student study time. Students who review their phonic, sight word cards and learn their spelling are those who can often progress faster, but there is no way to make this compulsory.

How do you deal with students who are eager to learn to read but through brain damage are unable to do so?

Every situation is different. Reading progress depends on a student’s aptitude for reading which is affected by factors beyond the reach of classroom instruction.

How does ALTA overcome the personal and general reluctance from someone with reading challenges?

Overcoming the shame factor is the biggest hurdle to attracting students. From ALTA’s early years, community announcements on radio helped to attract tutors, and then later students.

How long does it take to complete this program?

ALTA follows the academic calendar which starts in September and ends in July. Once enrolled, students will begin a one year course appropriate to their literacy level: Beginner, Level 1, 2. However, to give an average or typical student time frame would be misleading.
It may take one student an academic year to complete a level, but there will be students who, for various reasons (developmental or learning disabilities, social or emotional problems, seasonal jobs, work commitments) cannot satisfy all the requirements to complete a level after a year. ALTA welcomes these students back year after year, advising that they get extra practice at an ALTA Reading Circle until they are considered ready to move to the next level.

Do students receive a certificate or anything else showing their completion which might help them in future?

Yes. ALTA presents certificates to students who have completed or are advanced to the next literacy level in ALTA. Students who have completed study at ALTA have successfully gone on to receive School Leaving certificates, CSEC passes and other qualifications.

Are there any other books/materials that a non-student can purchase from ALTA?

Yes. In addition to producing its own teaching and student materials to be used in the community classes, members of the public can purchase CDs, games and books.