Workers’ Educational Association
In 1915 the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) was founded in New Zealand and became the major provider of adult education in the country.
WEA, devoted to promoting higher education among working women and men, started in Britain in the late 19th century, and focused on individual self-improvement for working people. A typical course involved up to 30 students taking 24 classes, each of which entailed a lecture followed by a group discussion. Unlike earlier adult education initiatives, WEA catered equally for women students.
Most tutors were university lecturers, and university colleges formally supported WEA branches through regular grants. From 1919 the government made a direct annual grant. By 1930 there were 224 classes and 7,355 students. Classes were held in main centres, small towns and rural districts.
New Education Fellowship conference
The New Education Fellowship was an international organisation that promoted equal access to educational opportunities and new learning philosophies. In 1937 a New Education Fellowship conference was held in New Zealand and adult education was a major theme.
The first Labour government set up the Council of Adult Education (CAE) in 1938 to co-ordinate all strands of adult education and advise the government on funding requirements. University colleges were directed to spend adult education funds as required by the CAE. The CAE had no staff and the registrar of the University of New Zealand acted as secretary.
That same year, the Feilding Community Centre, a pioneering adult education institution and the country’s first rural community centre, opened in the Manawatū town at the instigation of Feilding Agricultural High School principal Leonard Wild. It was funded by the Department of Education and attached to the school.
Gwen and Crawford Somerset were the first directors (1938-47) and offered subjects such as literature, art, psychology and physical education. They began their adult education career at Oxford East District High School in Canterbury in the 1920s and went on a study tour of European adult education institutions in the following decade.
In addition to teaching, Gwen and Crawford Somerset gave a regular series of evening lectures during their tenure at the Feilding Community Centre. Subjects included Hitler and fascism, war, capitalism, communism and religion. Some of these topics were hard for the more conservative residents of the town to swallow. The mayor’s mother is said to have paid regular visits to the centre to ‘find out what they are hatching down there’.1
Army adult education
During the First World War soldiers attended Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) lectures and classes, which were designed to help them integrate back into civilian life after the war. Similar programmes were run during the Second World War. A special unit, the Army Educational and Welfare Service, was established in 1942 to run training courses and library services. The service published regular bulletins on all manner of topics. The navy and air force offered comparable programmes.