The Manukau Family Literacy Project, New Zealand

  • Date published:
    3 July 2012

Programme Overview

Programme Title The Manukau Family Literacy Project
Implementing Organization City of Manukau Education Trust (COMET)
Language of Instruction English
Funding Ministry of Education
Date of Inception 2002

Context and Background

Family literacy programmes have been in circulation in countries such as the USA and England since the 1970s, but they are relatively new to New Zealand. The term “family literacy” is not universal, but generally refers to interactive literacy and learning activities between parents and their children, training for parents regarding how to be involved in the education of their children and parent literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency. The key component is the recognition of adult participants as learners in their own right.

In the wake of the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) in New Zealand, concern regarding adult literacy increased. The survey’s findings showed that a significant proportion of the New Zealand adult population, around one in five, had noticeable literacy difficulties and demonstrated that a need for literacy improvement was not confined to any particular socioeconomic group. The government then developed a national adult literacy strategy that emphasised the involvement of families and the diversification of adult literacy programmes in the workplace. Following this new government strategy, there has been a move towards increasing learning opportunities for adults with literacy needs in New Zealand. In recent years, a variety of organisations have developed family literacy programmes that incorporate both the parents and their children in learning together and individually. Since a large proportion of children having difficulties with literacy and numeracy come from families in which the parents have similar problems, family literacy programmes have proven to be a useful means to address literacy and bridge the intergenerational gap so as to curb perpetuation of the problem. Family literacy programmes are unique in the way that they break conventional moulds of education by incorporating both parents and their children in the learning process.

The Manukau Family Literacy Project

The Manukau Family Literacy Project (MFLP) grew out of an initiative by the Literacy Taskforce of the City of Manukau Education Trust (COMET). COMET is a non-profit organization located in southern Auckland’s Manukau City, which is one of New Zealand’s lowest socioeconomic areas with a culturally diverse population. The third largest city in Auckland is growing fast and home to more than 165 different ethnic groups, including a high concentration of indigenous Maori and Pacific Islanders. This region has a disproportionate number of adults and children who, according to IALS data, have had little formal schooling resulting in low literacy skills. Therefore, COMET mainly targets the Maori and Pacific Islander groups in this area to support and encourage educational opportunities in the city. Within the wider Manukau region, COMET works alongside 95 Primary schools and 40 Secondary schools, as well as business and community partners.

The programme was originally modelled and influenced by the work of the National Centre for Family Literacy (NCFL) in Louisville, Kentucky (USA) and programmes associated with this centre. The visit of an NCFL staff member in 2002 provided some initial stimulus for the project, for resource material and staff training. Funding was secured from the Ministry of Education to establish two pilot sites for the project. The two pilot sites ran their programme successfully from 2003 to 2004 so that a third and fourth site were added in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Although this support has been gratefully acknowledged, the MFLP has since evolved and developed its own methods that,are tailored, as the programme progesses, to the local environment and philosophy.

Project Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The MFLP is an intergenerational programme. An adult family member such as a mother, father or grandparent enrols in an adult education class that is based at the same educational site as their child’s. Both MFLP sites are located in primary school classrooms and entail three partner institutions – a kindergarten, a primary school and a tertiary provider. The kindergartens and the primary schools work with the children enrolled in the programme and link the child (one per parent) with their parent or family member for key parts of the programme such as Parents and Child Together Time (PACTT).
Indeed, the experience so far has shown that the programmes will vary from site to site because of the particular characteristics and strengths of each location. Nevertheless, the same framework for family literacy is exhibited throughout all of the locations. In the overall context of educational approaches in New Zealand, this programme marks a radical change: It works across age groups and has sought funding from a range of different agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), so it does not fit conveniently into the conventional institutions.

Parent and Child Together Time (PACTT)

This model involves adults attending a tertiary programme in their children’s school where an adult educator is employed and responsible for teaching the adult participants about child development, as well as some involvement in other components of the programme such as participation in the reading and numeracy aspect of their child’s schoolwork. The parent and child have PACTT for roughly 20 minutes per day, four times a week. This method has proven to have an appeal for the participants who value getting involved in the education of their children.

Target Group

The main target groups of this programme are adult learners, mostly women, who have historically been underrepresented in New Zealand’s schooling system. Low-skilled workers and those with literacy, numeracy and language difficulties are targeted in order to substantially increase literacy in the region. These adults have generally not finished school or left school early with few or no basic skills and gone on to work in low-skilled and low-status jobs. This not only affects the ambition and aspiration for the future of the parent but also his/her family, namely the children. Therefore, MFLP targets these families in order to build confidence through education in the parent and the child for their future.

Programme Objective

The MFLP’s aim is to improve the basic skills of parents with poor education who want to support their children’s learning. This model is based on a conventional model of family literacy of adult education, parent education, and child and parent time together. It is important to build up the literacy skills of adults to a level from which they can proceed to a higher education programme or employment while working on their children’s skills so that they can face their children’s schooling with confidence and see them achieve at or ahead of their age-group level.

Adult participants attend 30 hours of instruction per week, with classes ranging from reading, writing and computing skills to parenting skills, giving them knowledge that will help the family. All of the classes emphasise a strong basic skills component, early development studies, and a developmental education programme. The children who participate in this programme follow their conventional curriculum in their kindergarten or primary school and meet with their parents for 20 minutes every day for PACTT. Creating time for parents and children to work together on literacy and educational activities is a primary objective of the MFLP programme. The topics and activities are planned by the family literacy teacher and the parent together so as to involve the parent more in the education of their child.

Impact and Achievements of the Programme

A 2005 evaluation of the MFLP showed that the programme has had considerable impact on the participants, their families, the participating institutions and the community. So far, the programme has involved around 100 families. More than 90 per cent of adult participants have graduated from the programme, and three quarters have moved on to degree programmes. Nearly half of the adults have entered employment or some combination of employment and continuing study. It has concluded that for every dollar spent on the MFLP, the return to the community is worth nearly USD 10.

In another evaluation report in July 2003, all the participants in the survey felt that their enrolled children had benefited from being part of the programme; such as improved completion of homework, greater motivation to go to school, improved reading skills and better parent/child interaction and communication. They all also reported that they felt that the programme had helped them in their parenting skills and improved relationships with their children. Because of the inherent nature of this programme, the entire family is often affected but many of the participants reported that they still had strong support from their families for their involvement and that this support had steadily increased over the duration of the course.


As in the case of any new programme, the MFLP has been confronted with obstacles during its development. Nevertheless, tackling these issues head-on has enriched the programme and the lives of its participants.

  • In relation to adult learning, the assessment of literacy gain can be problematic. While there are specific literacy skill components taught and assessed in each of the pilot programmes, there is currently no valid, universal measurement tool available that can be used to measure adult literacy achievements.
  • The facilitators’ salary for the adult education component has probably been the most difficult element to incorporate into the programme. It requires a tertiary provider to supply payment for a full-time teacher (approx. 25 hours per week) off-site for a minimum of 20 weeks, extending to 40 weeks over the full year.
  • Recruiting the appropriate professionals has not been easy. On the one hand, there is no precedent to the MFLP in New Zealand and so it is unclear what exactly is required of the teacher. On the other hand, finding people to work on a short-term basis, which is what this programme entails, is easier said than done.

Lessons Learned

  • Family literacy breaks the mould, in the sense that it is not stratified by age like most educational systems. It requires early childhood, school and adult educators to work together, and to understand each other’s “language” and philosophies, in ways they have not done before. It takes time to learn and adapt to each of the parties and how they do things in order to work in collaboration with one another.
  • Since the PACTT is a one-on-one exercise, parents with more than one child have a hard time only registering one of their children for the PACTT project.
  • Developing and running a family literacy programme is a complex undertaking which is particularly true of a pilot project. Because there are a number of institutions (kindergarten, primary school and tertiary providers) participating in the overall programme, it is not clear who “owns” the project and therefore who has the final say in making the decisions. Establishing the importance of a lead agency such as COMET has helped in resolving some of these concerns.
  • When it comes to family literacy, it is important that each member of the programme is constantly communicating with the teacher, child and parent to make sure that all participants are meeting their goals and expectations of the programme.


The long-term sustainability of the MFLP is based on the support received from the Ministry of Education and the tertiary organisations involved. It is vital to sustain strong relationships between the different organisations in order to continue carrying out the programme in an effective manner.
The MFLP has been very successful in improving participants’ academic skills and raising their long-term objectives. There is evidence that many participants who have now finished the programme are going on to achieve these ambitions such as continuing their education or are working in some form of gainful employment.

The programme provides a positive example of lifelong learning in action for the adult and children in the community. The two pilot programmes launched in 2002 and 2003 have proved to be a success and therefore more projects have been underway. The MFLP has expanded in 2004 and 2005 and hopes that this growth will continue with the support of the community and the government.



John Benseman
Programme Evaluator
52a Bolton St.
Blockhouse Bay/ New Zealand
E-mail: john.benseman (at) criticalinsight.co.nz

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). . Last update: 26 July 2017. The Manukau Family Literacy Project, New Zealand. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 27 March 2023, 08:18 CEST)

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