Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA)
Country Profile: Trinidad and Tobago
1,300,000 (2007 estimate)
English (Creole English widely used)
|Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):|
|Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP|
|Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)|
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)|
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)|
|Programme Title||Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) Literacy Programme|
|Implementing Organization||Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA)|
|Language of Instruction||English and Creole English|
The Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) was founded in 1992 with the aim of providing comprehensive and structured adult literacy programmes in the Repulic of Trinidad and Tobago. ALTA offers free literacy classes to adults (15 years and above) throughout the country. It particularly targets learners from poor urban and rural communities, as well as people in special circumstances, such as prisoners. It also trains about 100 literacy tutors annually to teach in its community classes. Furthermore, ALTA publishes its own literacy materials (such as workbooks, phonic cards, games, reading books and tutors' handbooks/teaching manuals) and maintains resource centres (libraries) across the country. About 1,500 learners enrol in the programme each year, and ALTA also offers literacy training courses to corporate and NGO employees. ALTA has received a number of national awards for its work, including the Leader Awards from Amoco and British Petroleum (bpTT) and the Hilton ‘Icons Recognition’ Award, and its founder has been elected as a ‘Paul Harris Fellow’ by the Rotary Foundation. In 2001, ALTA received the gold Humming Bird Medal for services to education.
Context and Background
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is a fast-developing country in the southern Caribbean whose economy is primarily industrial-based, with an emphasis on petroleum and petrochemicals. Tourism, agriculture and manufacturing are also important national economic activities. Economic development has enabled many people to access education and, as a result, primary education enrolment and national literacy rates are high (see above). However, not everyone has benefited. National Literacy Surveys undertaken by the University of the West Indies (UWI, 1995) and ALTA (1994) have revealed that around 22-23% of people aged 15 and above were functionally illiterate, while 8% were unable to read and write. In addition, UWI found that only 45% could read and understand a paragraph from a newspaper article. These people consequently faced major challenges in undertaking basic activities on their own.
Aims and Objective
The programme aims to:
- provide free and effective adult literacy classes for people aged 16 years and over;
- develop and publish appropriate adult literacy materials;
- create and maintain a pool of trained and experienced professional literacy tutors;
- maintain resource libraries offering materials and teaching aids for ALTA tutors; and
- carry out sponsored programmes to support literacy efforts within NGOs, the workplace, government initiatives and specific communities.
- Basic literacy skills
- Life skills (lesson topics)
- Family literacy and intergenerational learning
- Work-based literacy
Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies
The programme is implemented throughout the academic year, which consists of three terms starting in September and ending in July the following year. Each literacy level is completed within a single academic year and constitutes a minimum of 150 training hours. ALTA classes are offered at 50 different venues throughout Trinidad and classes are held twice a week for two hours. The ALTA literacy programme is based on themes or relevance to adult learners in the Caribbean. All teaching materials are produced by ALTA in response to students’ needs and interests. To date, ALTA has produced 60 literacy books and other learning materials, all of which are piloted in ALTA classes before being published. Each workbook lesson covers four or five literacy skills as part of a structured programme to develop reading and writing skills. While the primary aim of the workbooks is to develop literacy, the content also fosters students’ life skills by focusing on themes such as health, parenting, conservation and environmental awareness.
Recruitment and Training of Facilitators
Facilitators (tutors) are recruited through advertisements published in the mass media (newspapers, radio stations and flyers). Tutors are required to have passed Ordinary Level English Language and are mostly recruited from their own communities in order to enhance community ownership of and participation in the programme. After being interviewed, new tutors undergo literacy training which includes sitting in on 8 teaching sessions in an ALTA class and participating in a 6-day intensive training workshop. Thereafter, tutors who wish to continue as facilitators must attend mandatory annual refresher courses.
In order to ensure the effectiveness of the programme and maintain high standards, newly trained tutors are paired with and work under the guidance of experienced tutors. In addition, programme coordinators monitor and evaluate the tutors’ progress and advise them accordingly, thus ensuring that they receive progressive and continuous on-the-job training. Tutors are awarded a certificate after teaching for one academic year.
Each year, ALTA employs a total of 250 active tutors. Each facilitator caters for between 6 and 8 learners (of an annual total of around 1,500 learners) in order to give each individual learner adequate attention. Facilitators work as volunteers and receive no remuneration. However, a small stipend is paid to tutor trainers, class coordinators and master tutors who visit classrooms once a month and provide facilitators with guidance.
Enrolment of Learners
Prospective learners are informed of ALTA’s registration dates and venues through a public awareness campaign which includes the use of flyers and advertisements in the media (newspaper, television, radio). ALTA also employs former learners to present their testimonials at public meetings and encourage others to enrol in the programme. Students register at one of 12 main public libraries, after which they are assessed and placed into ALTA classes according to their prior literacy skills (i.e. Beginners courses and Levels 1, 2 and 3). Shortly after registering, new students select the ALTA class whose location, days and times suit them best.
The programme also provides extra-curricular activities such as class trips and end-of-term parties. Learners and programme graduates are furthermore encouraged to join ALTA Reading Circles for extra literacy practice under the guidance of other learners and/or tutors. These activities help to create a spirit of togetherness and motivate learners to continue with literacy classes. Students are evaluated at the end of the academic year and are awarded a certificate after successfully completing a literacy level.
Teaching - Learning Approaches and Methods
ALTA lessons are grouped into three units consisting of seven lessons each. A unit takes approximately one month to complete and ends with a review lesson that reinforces the literacy skills gained up to that point. Two practice and feedback sessions allow the tutor to go over or catch up on skills that students may not have grasped fully. In order to promote effective learning, ALTA gives every learner individual attention and uses a variety of real-life reading materials, including simplified newspaper articles, information leaflets on health and disaster preparedness, and food and medicine labels. The use of familiar, real-life materials helps students to feel more comfortable in class, and the structured teaching of literacy skills gradually improves their reading and writing skills.
ALTA employs a number of teaching/learning approaches and methodologies, including:
- Directed discovery teaching and critical thinking: Tutors use the question and answer method to provoke learners into critical thinking, reflection and debate. These questions also guide the learner to find critical solutions to problems addressed in the subjects being taught. As the content of literacy programmes is based on learners’ everyday experiences, this consequently helps them to resolve the challenges that they encounter in their daily lives.
- Use of appropriate teaching aids: The programme uses learning materials that learners encounter in their daily lives, but simplified to correspond with their reading level.
- Language experience approach: Because beginners have minimal word recognition skills, ALTA teaches literacy in two ways. Firstly, the tutor writes down commonly-used words and uses them as teaching material, thus ensuring that the material is both familiar and of interest to the student. Secondly, tutors use pictorial and ‘predictable’ books, where each story follows a pattern that involves much repetition and picture clues. The tutor first reads the book aloud to students first so that they understand and remember the repeated phrases. This helps the reader to ‘predict’ the words that will appear on each page. To reinforce the learning process, beginners are given greater individual attention by having small learners-tutor ratios and more than one tutor per level.
- Emphasis on multi-sensory learning: Individual phonic, sight word and rule cards reinforce learning, as do games and walk-around activities. Well-known games such as Rummy, Pairs, and Suck the Well are adapted so that they can be played using word or letter cards
- Bilingual teaching: Creole English and Standard English are used to achieve student targets.
Project Impact and Challenges
Monitoring and evaluation
ALTA has an end-of-level evaluation that assesses specific criteria and performance standards for each of the four literacy levels. Tutors are taught how to evaluate their students and all evaluations are reviewed and approved by the class coordinator. However, an independent external evaluation has not yet been undertaken.
At the professional level, ALTA continually monitors the performance of its tutors and other officials through a three-tier system. Tutors’ performance is assessed by trainers and coordinators via site visits and standardized reports. The coordinators themselves are evaluated by regional coordinators, who in turn are evaluated by the ALTA Senior Managers.
Impact / Achievements
Key programme achievements include:
- an annual total of approximately 1,500 students attending ALTA community classes. Of these, roughly 900 are new students and 600 are either repeating a course or moving up to a higher level. On average, ALTA awards 350 Level 2 (functional literacy) and 100 Level 3 certificates to graduate learners each year. However, certificates do not tell the whole story as some students who have achieved their personal literacy goals early opt to discontinue classes mid-way. These goals may be very small, such as being able to sign their name, or, at a higher level, to pass their driver’s test. These students have reached the level they need to function in their world.
- improvements in learners’ literacy skills. Within one year, most learners’ skills have improved noticeably, enabling them to function independently.
- improvements in the literacy skills of adults has had a positive influence on the performance of children at school. Studies have revealed that children who come from homes where reading is encouraged perform better at school; hence, the benefits of literacy training trickle down to the next generation.
- ALTA has developed and published over 60 literacy books, a phonics CD, and the first and only local set of educational board games, the ‘ALTA Caribbean 6-in-1 Game Pack’. It has also published workbooks for students at four levels – Beginners and Levels 1, 2 and 3. These learners’ books come with Tutors’ Books and card sets to help students practice phonics, sight words and rules for reading, spelling and grammar.
- the acquisition of literacy skills has enabled some learners to advance in their workplaces. It has also enhanced other learner’s chances of securing employment.
- improved literacy skills have enabled a number of learners to establish positive and functional social relationships.
The following testimonials by learners illustrate these benefits more vividly:
"I taught Shelly, the youngest of my five daughters, whatever I learnt at ALTA and in no time she was able to read very well. Her prospects look better than the rest. Maybe she will go to university. I keep pushing my girls forward because I don’t want them to suffer like me" (Rhonda).
"Before I came to ALTA, when my son would ask me anything for school or books, I would tell him “Go away. I am busy. Stop bothering me.” I knew he felt bad, but I didn’t want him to know I couldn’t read. Now, we read together and help each other" (Fitzroy).
- High staff turn-over: Retaining the services of qualified and experienced tutors and trainers is a major challenge because tutors are volunteers who receive no remuneration, while the stipend that coordinators and trainers receive from ALTA is too low. Moreover, staff positions are not held on a full-time basis. These challenges have led to high staff turn-over, which in turn has affected the quality of programme delivery. ALTA plans to tackle this challenge by developing a professional body of adult literacy tutors to provide consultant literacy and skills training services in the workplaces and to NGOs in order to generate income for stipends. Furthermore, there is a need to attract and retain tutors through the provision of paid teaching opportunities.
- Funding: Although ALTA has regular sponsors and generates independent funds (from tutors’ membership fees, the sale of literacy materials and consultant teaching services for corporate and NGO partners), these privately generated funds do not cover the programme’s annual costs of US$ 202,000. Furthermore, ALTA's corporate partners do not commit themselves to providing financial support on long-term basis.
- Sponsorship for rural areas: Rural areas suffer from a shortage of committed and qualified volunteers. In addition, prospective learners are often reluctant to attend classes in small communities/villages, partly due to the lack of public transport available, but primarily due to the stigma attached to illiteracy. There is therefore a need to undertake community advocacy campaigns in order to break down the stigma associated with illiteracy and attending literacy classes.
After 16 years of operation, the ALTA programme is very popular within Trinidad and Tobago and in the region as a whole. Due to its success over the years, the ALTA programme has been used by the government and NGOs in skills training programmes and, from 2008, in the education of children. Between 2001 and 2004, the government of Grenada provided funding, including stipends for tutors, to implement ALTA, establishing 30 centres in Grenada that offered a total of 48 classes. Plans are now underway to deliver the programme using information communication technologies (ICTs) such as interactive DVDs for use on televisions or computers. Hence, the programme has a solid foundation that is capable of sustaining it in the foreseeable future.
- It is crucial to monitor and evaluate tutors and learners constantly and maintain low learner-tutor ratios to ensure the effectiveness and success of literacy programmes.
- Group teaching is a critical means of enabling learners at the same literacy level to interact and learn from each other. It also motivates learners to remain with the programme as they come into contact with people who face similar challenges to their own.
- Alternative programmes must be offered because some learners are unable to attend literacy classes regularly due to poverty, learning disabilities, emotional barriers due to abuse, family disruption and past failure. ALTA has an A and B Programme for each literacy level (except Beginner), since irregular attendance means that students often have to repeat a level. The two programmes enable students to practice the skills that they have acquired using a variety of content.
- Although the use of volunteer tutors is a cost effective way of developing human resources for the country, tutors should be provided with effective training, ongoing monitoring and guidance to enhance the quality of literacy programmes. Furthermore, tutors should be self-motivated and committed individuals who are prepared and willing to volunteer their time to the programme.
- Literacy programmes should be based on high-quality teaching and learning materials. In order to be effective, literacy materials should reflect the learners’ everyday lives and be produced in local languages. To this end, ALTA uses indigenous Creole English as the starting point for teaching reading, writing and Standard English to adult learners, and also publishes its materials in both languages.
- Founder of the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA), Paula Lucie-Smith, will receive 2012 Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence (External link)
Chief Executive Officer
84 Belmont Circular Road, Belmont,
Trinidad, West Indies
Tel: +1 868 624 25 82
Fax: +1 868 624 34 42
E-mail: User: altapos
Host: (at) alta-tt.org
Last update: 17 February 2012