History of Maori Literacy and Numeracy: Key events and initiatives


This list is adapted from a cool interactive timeline which you can view here. However, it’s a little frustrating if you just want to read everything on one page relating to the timeline of Maori literacy and numeracy development from a historical perspective.

So I’ve reproduced the list below. If you want the references you’ll need to go to the interactive version in the link. Also, it’s more a history of New Zealand literacy development rather than just Maori literacy. And… not really much on the numeracy side.

This list also stops at about 2005. Feel free to update it in the comments.

Before 1800

  • Māori, in a number of dialects, was the oral language of New Zealand. Māori primarily relied on
    oral communication, but did also have some other communication forms (such as raranga,


  • Thomas Kendall, the first resident missionary, published A korao no New Zealand, or, The New Zealander’s first book: being an attempt to compose some lessons for the instruction of natives. This was the first published attempt to record Māori speech in an alphabetic form. Until there was an accepted system of writing, it was difficult to teach reading and writing in Māori.


  • Kendall set up the first school in New Zealand. It had a roll of 33 pupils. Missionaries taught Māori students reading and writing in Māori. Until the 1850s, all schools in New Zealand were private and charged fees.


  • Kendall, T. (1820). A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand was produced and printed. Hongi Hika and Hōhaia Parata Waikato helped Kendall to write this book.


  • The Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Most of the signatures were affixed to the Māori version. At this time, Māori was the dominant language in New Zealand’s social, commercial, and political life, as well as the language of mass education.


  • Foreign words were being rendered into the Māori language (giving English words a Māori semblance e.g. pene from the English word pen).
  • Most Māori between the ages of ten and 30 could read and write their own language.
  • Many Europeans settlers had low literacy skills.
  • First Māori Language Newspaper published: Te Karere O Nui Tireni (The Messenger of New Zealand)


  • Governor Grey put into effect the Education Ordinance 1847. One aim was to place children into boarding schools away from tribal influences.
  • The Education Ordinance 1847 also set aside 5 percent of the colony’s revenue for education. Schools were supported on condition that lessons were given in English.


  • The Constitution Act 1852 was passed. Provincial councils took responsibility for education.


  • The Government directed that instruction should be in the English language and in the ordinary subjects of primary English education.


  • The Native Schools Act 1867 was passed. A national system of day schools for Māori children
    was set up, with the teaching of English as its central task. Use of the Māori language was
    effectively forbidden in schools. This was later rigorously enforced. No fees were charged to
    attend. Māori village schools were administered by the Native Affairs Department.


  • The Education Act 1877 allowed the government to take control of schools. Primary education was free, but secondary schools charged fees. Education was made compulsory for all European children aged from seven to 13.


  • The first free kindergartens started operating.


  • By now, use of the Māori language was banned from the classroom and often the playground. (Many Māori saw school as a way for their children to learn English and thereby gain access to the new political and economic order.)


  • The School Attendance Act 1901 was passed. Formal education was made compulsory for both Māori and European children.


  • 90 per cent of Māori children are native Māori speakers.Te Puke ki Hikurangi, Te Mareikura and other Māori newspapers publish national and international news and events in Māori as well as extensive coverage of farming activities.

1917 (approx)

  • The Workers Education Association was set up.


  • By this time, many children were progressing to secondary education.
  •  Sir Āpirana Ngata begins lecturing Māori communities about the need to promote Māori language use in homes and communities, while also promoting English language education for Māori in schools.


  • The first Correspondence School classes began.


  • Secondary education was made free to all children aged from 14 to 19.


  • Māori urban migration begins.


  • The school leaving age was raised to 15.


  • The National Advisory Committee on Māori Education was formed.
  • The committee’s first task was to merge Native Schools with public schools.
  • This process continued until 1964 when the last Native School was closed.


  • Māori action groups such as Nga Tamatoa and Te Reo Māori began to alert the population to the
    consequences of the loss of the Māori language.
    Many Māori began leaving their marae to move to the cities. This broke whanau and language
  • Television and other mass media broadcast almost exclusively in English.


  • Hunn Report describes the Māori language as a relic of ancient Māori life.
  • The Māori Education Foundation Act 1961 directed money towards the education of Māori.


  • A report from the National Advisory Committee on Māori Education advanced the concept of bilingual education


  • The Māori Affairs Amendment Act 1974 redefines who can call themselves Māori.
  • The first adult literacy scheme was established in Hawke’s Bay.


  • The Waitangi Tribunal Act 1975 establishes the Waitangi Tribunal.
  • Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa initiated Whakatupuranga Rua Mano, a 25 year long tribal development exercise which emphasises Māori language development.


  • Rūātoki School becomes the first bilingual school in New Zealand.


  • Te Ataarangi was established to teach the Māori language to individuals and families.


  • Thirteen Rural Education Activity Programmes (REAPs) were established.


  • Employment training schemes included basic literacy skills.
  • Reading Recovery was introduced in schools.


  • Te Wānanga o Raukawa was established in Ōtaki. The traditional meaning of wānanga iwi/tribal
    based house of higher learning. In the modern sense the term translates to a tertiary institution.
    Te Whare Wānanga o Raukawa was set up by the confederation of tribes from Te Āti Awa, Ngāti
    Raukawa, and Ngāti Toarangatira. It is devoted to the teaching of mātauranga Māori (Māori
    knowledge). For more information see: http://www.twor.ac.nz/


  • The Adult Reading and Learning Assistance (ARLA) Federation was established as a national organisation.
  • The first kōhanga reo were established. Kōhanga reo is a pre-school. Children and parents are immersed in Māori language and tikanga. Tikanga may be translated as ways of doing things or culturally accepted behaviours.


  • Hoani Waititi — the first kura kaupapa Māori — was established. Kura kaupapa Māori are primary and secondary schools where all classes are taught in the Māori language and tikanga is observed. English language is part of the core curriculum. 


  • The Māori Language Act 1987 is passed, giving Māori language statutory recognition.


  • Kura kaupapa Māori are formally recognised under the Education Act 1989.
  • The Aotearoa Institute (later Te Wānanga o Aotearoa) established as a Private Training
    Establishment – Te Kuratini o Ngā Waka. Te Wānanga O Aotearoa was the first tertiary institution
    focusing on delivering vocational courses in a Māori environment.


  • The Government funded the first workplace literacy programmes in Fisher and Paykel and Bluebird Foods.
  • Workbase was established as a development unit within the ARLA Federation.
  • Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi opened (gained official Wānanga status
    1997). Awanuiārangi is an ancestor of iwi (tribes) who descend from the Mataatua canoe.


  • Te Whare Ako was established by Workbase, at Tasman Pulp and Paper Company Limited, as
    the first workplace literacy programme provided by Māori staff for Māori learners.


  • Workbase was established as a separate organisation.
  • The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was carried out in New Zealand.  The first publication about the IALS results was published.


  • The ARLA Federation was mandated by the membership as a Treaty-based organisation and changed its name to Literacy Aotearoa.
  • Various articles interpreting the IALS results were published.


  • More Than Words: The New Zealand Adult Literacy Strategy was released by the Ministry of Education.
  • A chief adult literacy adviser was appointed at the Ministry of Education.
  • The Draft Quality Standard for adult vocational literacy providers was trialled.
  • The Adult Literacy Learning Pool Subsidy (ALLP) was established by the Ministry of Education. This was later renamed the Foundation Learning Pool (FLP).
  • The Workplace Literacy Fund (WLF) was established by TEC.
  • The Adult Literacy Achievement Framework (ALAF) was developed and piloted.
  • Te Kawai Ora: Report of the Māori Adult Literacy Working Party was published as a response to More Than Words.


  • The Ministry of Education commissioned adult literacy research. This included a literature review, an observational study, and the mapping of adult literacy and foundation learning opportunities.
  • The first Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) was published by the Ministry of Education. It includes Strategy Two, Te Rautaki Mātauranga Māori (Contribute to the Achievement of Māori Development Aspirations) ; Strategy Three, Raise Foundation Skills So That All People Can Participate In Our Knowledge Society , and Strategy Five, Educate For Pacific Peoples’ Development and Success.


  • The Ministry of Education released a Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities for 2003-2004.
  • The draft Adult Literacy Quality Mark (dALQM) was developed and trialled by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).


  • Draft Key Competencies were published by the Ministry of Education.
  • Draft Descriptive Standards were published by the Ministry of Education.
  • The Learning for Living initiative was established as a joint government initiative.
  • Learning for Living exploratory projects were established.


  • Learning for Living professional development clusters in reading and numeracy were established.
  • The Foundation Learning Quality Assurance (FLQA) arrangements were developed (building on dALQM). 
  • The Adult Literacy Educator’s Qualification was registered by NZQA.
  • The Ministry of Education released a new Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities for 2005- 2007.
  • The FLQA arrangements were trialled.
  • Embedded literacy pilot programmes were established with five industry training organisations (ITOs).
  • The draft Foundation Learning Progressions for listening, speaking, reading, writing, and numeracy were published by the Tertiary Education Commission.
  • The Ministry of Education released a new Tertiary Education Strategy 2007-2012 incorporating Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities 2008-10. The Strategy includes amongst areas for focus ‘strong foundations in literacy, numeracy and language’.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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