Since the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) was founded 20 years ago, it has served more than 10,000 people. However, Paula Lucie-Smith, ALTA’s CEO and founder, believes literacy remains a matter of urgency.
ALTA is a non-profit organisation providing free literacy tuition to adults and at the launch of its 20th anniversary magazine at its Belmont, Port-of-Spain headquarters last week, Lucie-Smith said 12 years after secondary school education became universal, there remains no comprehensive remedial programme.
“What you have happening is everybody is placed, but people are being placed into schools where there is no provision for them to improve their reading and writing. It becomes an exercise in frustration for them and the teachers.”
Inability to read hampers functioning in everyday life and the rise in use of technology makes this even more difficult, she added. “The longer you leave people unable to read, the more they feel excluded. And the level of literacy that you require to just function in everyday life increases every year. Twenty years ago there was no Internet. Can you imagine a teenager who can’t interact with his friends on that level? That insecurity sometimes drives people to do things to make them look like a big man.”
The 100-page magazine, of which 3,000 copies were printed, includes articles by and about ALTA tutors and students. Lucie-Smith has high expectations for what the magazine will be able to achieve. She hopes that circulation of the magazine in various government buildings and corporate offices will help recruit 100 new tutors for the 2013 cycle of classes, as well as encouraging government partnership and sponsorship for proposed online courses.
While Lucie-Smith cited appreciation from students as one of her major motivations over the past 20 years, she did express some disappointment at the lack of government partnership with ALTA. “We would like to partner with the Ministry of Community Development. We have community centres all over the country that are under-utilised. If we had an ALTA-trained tutor in every one of those centres and had something useful going on in the centre it could make a huge difference for literacy.
“Volunteers don’t come from every part of the country, and the parts of the country we can’t reach are often the areas where people come forward for instruction.”
She said at the Princes Town centre there were currently 58 students and only three tutors. She added that ALTA presented a proposal to the ministry two years ago to which it has received no response. Lucie-Smith also pointed out that apart from a brief pilot programme at a Claxton Bay secondary school, ALTA has never received government support.