Kōrero: Adult education

Whārangi 3. Growth of adult education, 1940s to 1970s

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National Council of Adult Education

In 1947 the government passed the Adult Education Act, the first stand-alone piece of legislation dealing with adult education. The Council of Adult Education (CAE) was replaced by the National Council of Adult Education (NCAE). Under its direction, university colleges set up regional adult education councils which employed directors and tutors. They were sent to areas that had never had adult education services before, such as Whangārei and Invercargill. The council also funded the Community Arts Service, which organised tours of performing artists and exhibitions in rural areas. By 1955 there were just under 1,500 classes and discussion groups overseen by the NCAE.

Non-vocational classes

In the 1950s a significant number of adult education students were taking non-vocational classes out of personal interest in subjects like cooking and woodworking. Schools also offered an increasing array of evening classes.


From 1963 universities were no longer required to have regional councils and were free to deliver adult education as they wanted. The programmes were referred to as university extension or continuing education rather than adult education, highlighting the fact that they were based on university subjects.

1970s boom

Adult education expanded in the 1970s. The decade opened with the establishment of the the Committee on Lifelong Education, sponsored by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO. From 1974 adults could attend daytime classes at secondary schools, and the following year Radio New Zealand created its Continuing Education Unit to air adult education programmes. Both these initiatives were recommended by the committee. It also supported the creation of Hawke’s Bay Community College in 1975. Community colleges offered vocational and non-vocational classes.

Students continued to sign up to Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) courses in droves – by the late 1970s there were over 17,000 enrolments. The WEA book discussion scheme, in which books were distributed throughout the country to book groups, started in 1973.

In 1979 the Rural Education Activities Programme (REAP) began. This was aimed at smaller rural communities without existing adult education programmes and also provided support and resources for rural education in general.

Internationally, there was growing awareness that adult education was not reaching the most educationally disadvantaged. The NCAE appointed Māori and Pacific liaison officers and an adult reading assistance programme was instituted. This work was strengthened by the establishment of the Pasifika Education Centre in 1975, and Te Ataarangi, an adult education provider teaching the Māori language, in 1979. English as a Second Language (ESOL) tuition also began in the 1970s.

In 1974 the Association of New Zealand Community Education (now ACE Aotearoa) was formed to represent non-formal adult education providers.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Adult education - Growth of adult education, 1940s to 1970s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/adult-education/page-3 (accessed 22 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Kerryn Pollock, i tāngia i te 20 Jun 2012