Our work to improve adult literacy and numeracy

This web page gives you more information about the Tertiary Education Commission's work in lifting adult literacy and numeracy skills, including through use of our dedicated literacy and numeracy funds. It also provides resources to help educators and lift sector capability.


Why improving adult literacy and numeracy is important

Our implementation strategy

Strategies and resources

Dedicated literacy and numeracy funds

Embedded literacy and numeracy practices

Supporting the sector and building capability


Why improving adult literacy and numeracy is important

Literacy and numeracy skills are crucial for building a competitive, skilled and productive workforce. However, internationally benchmarked (OECD, 2006) research shows that more than a million New Zealand adults have  less than optimal literacy skills (43 per cent) and numeracy skills (51 per cent) for a knowledge-based economy. New Zealand’s low levels of literacy and numeracy have been identified as contributing to our relatively low productivity. 

Improving adult literacy and numeracy underpins several of the Government’s Better Public Services results and is a priority in the Tertiary Education Strategy 2014 – 2019.


Our implementation strategy

The TEC has an implementation strategy which sets out how we will work with and across the tertiary sector, employers, and across government to lift literacy and numeracy skills of adults. 

The 2015–2019 strategy was released in November 2015 and has been developed in consultation with sector stakeholders and other government agencies.

We have developed and support a range of initiatives to help raise adult literacy and numeracy skills for a knowledge-based economy. These include:

  • developing high-quality resources to support educators

  • providing opportunities for learning through funding and programmes
  • introducing professional development for the tertiary workforce.


Strategies and resources

These links provide more information about the Government's strategies to improve literacy and numeracy, and useful information and research about adult literacy and numeracy in New Zealand.

Below are some of ways we work to improve adult literacy and numeracy outcomes.

Dedicated literacy and numeracy funds

Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Fund

This fund supports the intensive provision of quality fees-free literacy, language and numeracy learning opportunities for learners with low-level literacy and numeracy skills.

Visit the Intensive Literacy and Numeracy Fund section.


Intensive Literacy and Numeracy – English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Fund

This fund supports fees-free ESOL programmes for adult refugees and migrants who are pre-literate learners or learners who have very low levels of English language and literacy. Pre-literate learners are those whose first language has no written form and who need exposure to the purposes and uses of literacy.

Visit the Intensive Literacy and Numeracy – ESOL Fund section.


Workplace Literacy and Numeracy

This fund supports training programmes that are delivered within the context of workplace learning. The programmes are offered in two ways:

  1. TEO led – tertiary providers who either work with a specific workplace to develop and implement a literacy and numeracy programme tailored to that workplace, or work with self-referred employees on a one-to-one basis or in small groups of up to six employees (from one or more employers). 

  2. Employer led – employers are directly funded to deliver programmes to their eligible staff.

Visit the TEO-led Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund section.

Visit the Employer-led Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund section.


Adult Literacy Educator (ALE) Fund

This fund provides support for educators studying for qualifications in teaching adult literacy and numeracy. The purpose of ALE funding is to build the capability of educators and trainers to effectively teach adult literacy and numeracy.

Visit the Adult Literacy Educator Fund section.


Tertiary education organisation funding

We fund foundation learning through a number of funding sources, including

  • the Student Achievement Component (SAC) levels 1 to 3
  • Youth Guarantee
  • Adult and Community Education
  • Gateway.

One of the key purposes of foundation learning is to raise the literacy and numeracy skills of learners.

We require all education funded through SAC at levels 1 to 3 and Youth Guarantee to have embedded literacy and numeracy practices and for learners to be assessed using the Assessment Tool.


Industry Training Fund

We support foundation-level training through the Industry Training Fund. Industry training organisations (ITOs) must have embedded literacy and numeracy as part of their training programmes at levels 1 to 3 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. This includes literacy and numeracy skills development support through New Zealand Apprenticeships if needed.

Visit the Industry Training Fund section.

Embedded literacy and numeracy practices 

Embedded literacy and numeracy (ELN) combines the development of literacy and numeracy skills with the development of vocational and other skills.

The literacy and numeracy skills developed provide learners with the competence, confidence and motivation necessary for them to succeed in the vocational programme, or at work and in life.

Tertiary education organisations (TEOs) should all be at a mature stage of ELN practice, where ELN is part of business as usual. This means that they use the existing literacy and numeracy resources and infrastructure well in their teaching and have literacy and numeracy skills development of learners embedded in their daily operations at all levels.

We have created this ELN practices table (Word, 315 Kb) to help organisations identify their own ELN practice. The table lets you reflect and then plan for what can be achieved to improve your ELN practice.

A wealth of resources and information on how to embed literacy and numeracy skills development for learners effectively in your organisation is available online at the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults website.

Resources for embedding literacy and numeracy skills

Detailed guidance is also available for:

Embedded Literacy and Numeracy elements for ITOs

The following elements of embedded literacy and numeracy (see link below) have been developed from research we have commissioned. They highlight the practices ITOs need to take into account in their literacy and numeracy work. 

Embedded Literacy and Numeracy elements table for ITOs (PDF, 112 Kb) - from TEC-commissioned research ‘Evaluating the progress of embedded literacy and numeracy in industry training organisations’.   

This table diagram is part of our commissioned research about evaluating the progress of embedded literacy and numeracy in ITOs. We are seeking feedback on these elements from ITOs and intend to refine the diagram over time.  

Supporting the sector and building capability

We also fund a number of services and support tools to help TEOs improve their literacy and numeracy practices. These are outlined below.


National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults

The National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults (National Centre) is funded by us to lead a national programme of professional development and educational services to improve the effectiveness of providers and educators.

The National Centre’s activities include face-to-face and online professional development, literacy and numeracy resources and workshops, and providing advisory and whole-of-organisation capability support to tertiary education providers.

He Taunga Waka

Ako Aotearoa provides professional development workshops and organisational support for educators and organisations who work with Māori and Pasifika learners to improve their literacy and numeracy outcomes.

The He Taunga Waka programme complements other professional development provided by the National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults.

Skills Highway

We fund the Skills Highway programme to identify best practice and help employers develop and maintain workplace literacy and numeracy programmes.

Learn how literacy and numeracy training can help your workplace:

Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool (Assessment Tool)

The Assessment Tool is an online adaptive tool that provides reliable information on the reading, writing and numeracy skills of adults. Use of the Assessment Tool is a funding condition for tertiary education organisations receiving foundation education funding through the TEC.

Learning Progressions

Learning Progressions, a theoretical framework of literacy and numeracy skills, details competencies in adult literacy and numeracy.  This includes advice and information on what adult learners know and can do at successive points as they develop their skills.

(Note: We no longer have hard copies of the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy available, and will not resume hard copy printing of these resources.

The Learning Progressions are available to download from the National Centre of Numeracy and Literacy for Adults website. The Reading Collection resources to support adult literacy learning are also available online here.


Pathways Awarua

This online self-directed literacy and numeracy learning resource is made up of pathways of modules for learners to complete at their own pace, based on competencies set out by the Learning Progressions. It can be used as a digital learning tool and as a teaching supplement.

National literacy and numeracy qualifications for educators

We have worked with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the sector to create qualification pathways for literacy and numeracy educators. These qualifications range from certificates to masters’ degrees.

Check individual funds to see if there are any qualification requirements for educators.

Qualification requirements for literacy and numeracy educators

A key funding condition for many foundation-level courses is that tutors who teach such courses must hold an appropriate qualification, such as the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational/Workplace) which is known as NCALNE (Voc). The requirement will apply to the following funds:

  • Student Achievement Component levels 1 and 2 (competitive and non-competitive, including the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training initiative)
  • Literacy and numeracy provision (Intensive Literacy and Numeracy and Workplace Literacy Fund).

While the above is considered good practice, this expectation is not currently a requirement for Youth Guarantee, Adult and Community Education, Gateway, Intensive Literacy and Numeracy ESOL, or English for Migrants funding.

See the Qualifications for literacy and numeracy educators page for more information including a list of appropriate qualifications and how the TEC will ensure this requirement is met.

  • Last changed: 7 April 2016
  • Last verified: 7 April 2016