Literacy and Life Skills for Māori Adults: Results from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey

Publication Details

The 2006 ALL survey measured skills in prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem solving. The ALL survey included an oversample of Māori adults. This design feature has allowed meaningful analyses of the distribution of literacy and numeracy skills among the adult Māori population of New Zealand.

Author(s): Paul Satherley and Elliot Lawes, Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: August 2009

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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Section 1: Executive Summary

  • How are literacy and numeracy skills distributed within New Zealand's adult Māori population?
  • How are these skills distributed according to factors such as age, gender and income?


The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey, conducted in 2006, is able to provide insight into these and other related questions. ALL built on the similar International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) conducted in New Zealand in 1996. It measured skills in prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem solving. The IALS survey also measured prose and document literacy.

The ALL survey included an oversample of Māori adults. This design feature has allowed meaningful analyses of the distribution of literacy and numeracy skills among the adult Māori population of New Zealand.

Why do we need these insights? Literacy and numeracy skills are key factors that contribute to people's effectiveness and productivity, and hence New Zealand's society and economy, of which the Māori population forms a large and important part. It therefore provides a general picture of how the skills of the adult Māori population contribute to New Zealand's society and economy.

Key Findings

This report describes the relationship between distributions of these skills and demographic, educational and employment factors: age; gender; labour force status; educational attainment; income, income source, occupation and industry.

  • For all four ALL skill domains:
    • for all reported age groups, more than half of Māori adults in 2006 had low skills – level 1 or 2 skills
    • Māori adults aged 25-44 in 2006 had substantially higher skills than both younger and older Māori adults
    • employed Māori adults in 2006 had substantially higher skills than Māori adults not working
    • skill levels are strongly related to education levels. A majority of Māori adults with tertiary education had prose and document literacy skills at level 3 or above.
  • For prose and document literacy and numeracy, 16-24-year-olds had lower skills than 25-34-year-olds.
  • For prose and document literacy and the problem solving skill domains, Māori women, on average, had slightly higher skills than Māori men. But in numeracy, Māori men had the skill advantage.
  • The proportion of Māori women with very low prose and document literacy skills decreased substantially between 1996 and 2006. This effect was much less marked for Māori men. This may be associated with the lower participation rate, in recent years, of Māori men in tertiary education compared to Māori women.
  • The proportions of Māori adults with an upper secondary or tertiary level education increased substantially from 1996 to 2006. A corresponding decrease shows in the proportion with lower secondary or less education.
  • Māori adults in the highest Māori income quintile had substantially higher skills than Māori adults with less income. More than half of those Māori adults in the highest income quintile had level 3 or above prose and document literacy skills. Māori adults in the lower four income quintiles showed little difference in skills on average, and more than half had low skills at levels 1 or 2.
  • Skill levels of Māori adults differed strongly across different occupation groups. More than half of Māori adults who worked as Managers or Professionals, or Technicians had level 3 or above prose and document literacy skills.
  • Close to half of the Māori adults working in the industry group which includes Finance, Real estate, Health and Education services had level 3 or above prose and document literacy skills.


An appendix presents the tables that the graphs in the report are based on. It includes estimates of sampling errors.

A companion report, Literacy and Life Skills for Māori Adults – Further Investigation, addresses some of the questions raised by the relatively simple descriptive analysis in this report. This report shows that strong associations exist between skills and variables including, educational qualifications, labour force status and income. However, these variables are themselves closely associated with each other. Accordingly, Literacy and Life Skills for Māori Adults – Further Investigation takes the statistical analysis further through a model that analyses the nature and size of associations between factors when other factors are taken into account.

Four earlier reports investigating the distribution of skills among New Zealand's entire adult population completed the Ministry of Education's initial programme of ALL analysis. Please visit the Adult Litercy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey publications to view other ALL reports.

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