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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Provision for adult education has been made through the Adult Education Act 1947 which set up the National Council of Adult Education and charged it with the functions “(a) to promote and foster adult education and the cultivation of the arts; and (b) to make recommendations to the Minister as to the amount of the annual grant to be made to the National Council for adult education out of moneys appropriated by Parliament for that purpose, and to receive and administer and control the expenditure of all moneys granted to the Council as aforesaid”. The Council is constituted as follows: the Director of Education (or his nominee); the Director of the National Library Service (or his nominee); the chairman of the University Grants Committee (or his nominee); two members appointed by each of the university councils (after consultation with the local regional council of adult education); one member appointed by the Dominion Council of the Workers' Educational Association; one member appointed by the Minister to represent the Maori race; and up to two members coopted by the Council itself.

The setting up of the National Council did not mark the beginnings of adult education in New Zealand. These can be traced to the early immigrants, many of whom had been influenced by movements taking place in Great Britain, so that in the very early days of New Zealand's history we find such institutions as mechanics' institutes and libraries, together with a number of self-improvement societies that were modelled on institutions in Great Britain. In most centres varied courses of public lectures were well supported, especially during the winter months.

The Workers' Educational Association, first established in England, was extended to New Zealand in 1915. This represented a partnership between the university on the one hand, and trade unions and bodies affiliated to the W.E.A. and representatives of classes, on the other. The partnership was embodied in the tutorial classes committee consisting of equal representation from the university and the district council of the W.E.A. This committee was responsible for the appointment of tutors for classes organised by the W.E.A. and for the preservation of academic standards. Small and sporadic assistance was given to this movement from Government funds but it ceased during the economic depression in the early 1930s. With the coming into power of the Labour Government of 1935, Government assistance to adult education was renewed and has continued ever since.

The present organisation of adult education in New Zealand reflects its development through the W.E.A. The National Council of Adult Education makes grants to the universities for adult education purposes. The full-time staff is technically employed by the universities but the detailed administration is vested in a regional council of adult education which the Act of 1947 enjoins must consist of at least half of representatives of voluntary bodies engaged or interested in adult education.

Thus the regional councils of adult education are like the old tutorial classes committees but they have been considerably enlarged in the scope of interests. This has led to a wide variety of activities being catered for. Each regional council has on its staff a director of adult education and a staff of tutors. These tutors may be general tutors, resident in various parts of the university district, or specialist tutors. The general tutor organises classes, discussion groups, schools, and other activities in conformity with the needs of his community. There are specialist tutors in music, drama, arts and crafts, and home science to cater for people interested in these subjects. There are also tutors whose work lies mainly with the Maori people. Indeed, considerable attention has been given to the needs of members of the Maori race as it has been recognised that, as members of a cultural minority, they have their special problems. Every effort is made to preserve features of their own culture significant for present-day living and at the same time to aim at a fusion of the two cultures that will ultimately give a distinctive character to New Zealand life. The work, which is carried out in close collaboration with the Maori tribal organisations, consists of lectures, demonstrations, and conferences. The conferences generally deal with the discussion of material circulated in advance. This is followed up with the formation of local discussion groups led by those who have attended the conferences. Special attention is also given to the needs of the rural womenfolk and close collaboration is maintained with the two country-women's organisations which undertake the organising of classes in rural areas.

Collaboration also takes place with a number of other voluntary bodies such as the Nursery Play Centres Association, Parents' Centres, Marriage Guidance Councils, British Drama League, etc. Every effort is made to meet the educational needs of a wide variety of voluntary bodies. Discussion groups are supplied with scripts and illustrative material on many topics including the arts. Work in the arts is supplemented by a community arts service operating in each of the regions. Under this scheme, plays, ballet, opera, art exhibitions, and musical ensembles are taken to the rural areas which do not enjoy such activities through normal commercial channels.

In addition to the adult education work carried out under the auspices of the National Council of Adult Education, there is also provision for evening classes in the schools under the Department of Education. These classes, originally of a vocational nature, have become widened in scope and of recent years have catered more and more for general leisuretime interests.

by Percival Martin-Smith, M.A., LL.B., National Secretary, Adult Education, Wellington.

  • Further Education for Adults, New Zealand Council of Adult Education (1947)
  • Adult Education in New Zealand, Thompson, A. B. (1945).


Percival Martin-Smith, M.A., LL.B., National Secretary, Adult Education, Wellington.