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Learn reading and writing with Alta

Published: 
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Board members and patron of the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA). From left, Marise Warner, Paula Lucie-Smith (founder), Zalayhar Hassanali (patron), Hetty Sarjeant, Tim Padmore, Gem Rowe and Brenda De Silva.

Do you know how many adults in T&T are not able to read this article? I am sure that the figure would surprise you. The fact is that, for many different reasons, a lot of adults struggle with reading and writing. 
The Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) is the only institution in T&T that offers a comprehensive literacy programme for adults. Since 1992 ALTA has been achieving improvement in adult literacy. Anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to participate in the literacy programme.

An inspiring story

The natural way of things is—as a child you learn and as an adult you apply what you’ve learnt. In the case of many people, however, they just didn’t have the opportunity to learn English in school. For example, one 86-year-old unnamed ALTA student moved with his father to work at their country-side farm when he was just a boy. Ask this man anything about vegetation or cattle, even ask him mathematical questions and more and he will easily produce answers—but he cannot read. Now, as an old retired man, he just wants to read his bible and ALTA is helping him.

How is it done?

According to one of ALTA’s volunteer tutors, they are trained to understand what their students are experiencing. Teaching adults wouldn’t be quite the same as teaching children how to read. Therefore tutors go through a six-week auditing process, in which they observe ALTA classes. That period isn’t the training, it is just for the tutor to see how hard the job can be and to determine if they still want to do it. Afterward, they attend six classes in which they are taught how to teach and what their students see when they look at a piece of literature. The programme uses Paula Lucie-Smith’s studies in tutoring dyslexic students, to teach illiterates. There are four levels of the ALTA Programme. The Beginner level is for those who have trouble recognising the letters of the alphabet. Then, there are levels one, two and three—level three being similar to the school-leaving (diploma) level.

A teacher and his student
“The biggest mistake that people make, is equating the ability to read and write with intelligence. Reading and writing is a code. Writing is creating the code, while reading is decoding it,” said one tutor, who preferred to remain anonymous. He claims that tutoring for ALTA is the most selfless thing he has ever done, explaining, “That ‘eureka’ moment when you find a way to make your student understand is priceless.” In stark difference to the 86-year-old student, another student, Michelle, 44, said that it was long after graduating from high school that she began having literacy problems. After going through a depression, she went from computer-like memory, to very little memory. She was diagnosed as bipolar and developed problems with advanced reading, writing and spelling. “ALTA makes me feel like I’m continuing my education. I’m really proud to be doing it.” she said. She said she always enjoyed technical drawing and architecture and dreamed of one day completing a degree in that field. Promptly after completing the ALTA programme, she intends to do exactly that. ALTA hosts programmes across the Caribbean, including islands like St Vincent, Antigua and Grenada, and intends to expand.

MORE INFO: Do not be ashamed or embarrassed. If you have any issue preventing you from understanding literature, or if you know anyone that is illiterate and would like to learn—contact 624-ALTA (2582) or email them at altapos@alta-tt.org. Registration has already begun.