Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Trinidad and Tobago


1,300,000 (2007 estimate)

Official Language

English (Creole English widely used)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):

12.4% (1990-2004)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

3.9 (1999)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

86.4% (2006)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

99% (1995-2004)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)
  • Total: 98%
  • Male: 99%
  • Female: 98%

Programme Overview

Programme TitleAdult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationAdult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA)
Language of InstructionEnglish and Creole English
  • John Phillips Trust
  • RBTT Educational Foundation,
  • UK Women's Club,
  • American Women's Club,
  • the Neal & Massy Foundation
Programme Partners
  • Caribbean Money Market Brokers (CMMB),
  • United Way of Trinidad and Tobago,
  • Bermudez Biscuit Co. Ltd.


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:

Thematic Focus

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 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:

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:

The following testimonials by learners illustrate these benefits more vividly:



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.

Lessons Learned

Internet sources

Contact details

Paula Lucie-Smith
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: altapos (at)

Last update: 17 February 2012