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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading, Writing, and Family: Generations Learn Together

New Zealand's Manukau Family Literacy Program shows that parents and children can help educate each other.
By Stuart Middleton

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A literacy program in New Zealand that involves young children and a parent (usually mothers) is producing results that seem to be beneficial for parents, kids, the economy, and the country at large.

The Manukau Family Literacy Program, run by the City of Manukau Education Trust, is based in the island nation's third-largest city, which has a significant concentration of Maoris (the country's first inhabitants) and Pacific Islanders who have had little formal schooling. The program is founded on four key goals:

  • Build up the literacy skills of adults to a level from which they can proceed to a higher-education program or employment.
  • Work on children's skills so that they can face their schooling with confidence and achieve at or ahead of their age-group level.
  • Create time for parents and children to work together on literacy and educational activities.
  • Educate adults on parenting skills and give them knowledge that will help the family.

Crucial to the success of these components are integration, because they are tied closely to personal goals and needs, and intensity, because the program demands a significant commitment of twenty hours a week over the course of a year.

Successfully Moving On

So far, the program has involved eighty-five families. More than 90 percent of adult participants have graduated from the program, and three-fourths have moved on to programs that put them on a path toward a certificate or a degree. Nearly half of the adults have entered employment or some combination of employment and continued study.

An evaluation by the assessment organization PricewaterhouseCoopers has concluded that for every dollar spent on the Manukau Family Literacy Program, the return to the community is worth nearly $10. Even more important, families that have been through the program report an average weekly increase in income of more than $200.

A New Way of Doing Things

In the overall context of educational approaches in New Zealand, this program marks a radical change: It works across age groups and has sought funding from a range of different agencies, so it doesn't fit conveniently into the conventional institutions. The City of Manukau Education Trust is a not-for-profit organization established to work in a city with a disproportionate number of poorly educated people, so it was ideally suited to develop and implement this unusual approach. The trust, which estimates that about 4,000 Manukau families would benefit from this initiative, is securing funding to meet that need.

In one of the program's most notable success stories, last year an unemployed Maori mother with no educational qualifications who had taken part in the program with her children went on to earn a university degree. Though this level of success may not be typical, it's no exaggeration to say that this program is changing lives.

Stuart Middleton chairs the City of Manukau Education Trust.

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