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For the past 28 years, Alta has provided free adult literacy classes to the citizens of Trinidad. Every year Alta administers classes at 50 venues around the country, liaises with some 300 unpaid volunteer tutors, and aims to recruit and train 100 new volunteers annually to sustain our classes.

The pandemic necessitated swift, sweeping changes to the manner in which the world functions, as social distancing regulations were enacted to mitigate against the high rates of infection. This article shares Alta’s strategic outlook as we all seek to navigate this rapidly changing environment.

Upon news of two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Trinidad and as advised by the Ministries of Health and Communications, Alta immediately suspended all community literacy classes and training, and from Tuesday, March 17, shifted administrative staff to a work from home arrangement.

Ensuring efficient communication of these changes to students, tutors and other stakeholders became the focus as it meant a disruption to students’ schedules and other time-sensitive obligations.

There was immediate recognition that while classes would be suspended, Alta’s work would carry on as we have obligations to our students, both now and when normalcy returns. Our Information Systems manager took the lead in ensuring that all staff had access to the necessary equipment, software and training in order to facilitate continuity.

As an association with scores of volunteer tutors operating off-site, Alta has long had the advantage of familiarity with various tools including Microsoft Office 365, donated several years ago by Microsoft T&T through its software donation programme.

Alta remains connected at this time through the use of technology, with regularly scheduled meetings, document sharing and real-time collaboration. Daily MS Teams meetings during the first week have reduced to three times a week as staff adjusted quickly to remote work.

Student engagement efforts are ongoing in an effort to ensure that these stakeholders continue to feel supported in the midst of uncertainty. Early on, the Alta team had to pivot as Readings Under the Trees, our highly anticipated annual event which brings students and local authors together to share in the joy of reading, became Readings on the Web.

Engaging an audience at a virtual event via social media was new and challenging. We really appreciate the videos that our authors, poets and students provided, and we were pleased that so many engaged online with these. The collections are on Alta’s Facebook video library for those who missed this.

To deal with the loss of about a third of the academic year for our students in our free community classes, a team of experienced Alta tutors has explored remote teaching through WhatsApp and Zoom and this option is now being offered to all our students.

While we know that many students will not have the devices or internet connection needed for a virtual class, many will be able to maintain and enhance the skills gained so far to achieve minimal interruption of their learning goals. A number of our volunteers have quickly embraced this opportunity and student feedback is very positive.

Apart from this immediate measure, the Alta team has been working assiduously to complete our own Alta Online platform, and the pandemic has certainly highlighted the urgency of launching this project. Work continues unabated to widen the reach of our literacy programme through this web-based service, which begins its pilot in May.

We have also established a process for tutors to assist their students with completing the forms to access pandemic assistance – a literacy activity in keeping with Alta’s mandate!

While there may be no substitution for our face to face learning, we at Alta are facing this “new normal” with a comprehensive action plan and a sense of optimism. We remain committed to our mission of empowering adults through literacy and we appeal to our stakeholders to remain committed to us so that together we can “Stand Tall!”

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email [email protected]