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Small New Zealand Towns under the Microscope

For immediate release 29 January 2003

Small New Zealand Towns under the Education Microscope

New research at The University of Auckland seeks to find out more about the lifelong learning opportunities available to people living in small towns and communities in New Zealand.

Researchers in the University's School of Education recently won a Tertiary Education Commission contract to conduct research into a range of issues related to lifelong learning. Two areas have been selected for the study - Kaikoura and the Central Hawkes Bay.

Researcher and Senior Lecturer in Adult Education in the School of Education Dr John Benseman says lifelong learning is the idea that learning can and should continue throughout all of a person's life. It can exist in many contexts outside of traditional educational institutions, such as workplaces, community organisations and homes.

"It's particularly important for small towns and rural areas in New Zealand to have a diverse range of learning opportunities," Dr Benseman says.

"Historically, these areas have struggled to provide learning opportunities for their populations and many of the young people have migrated to bigger centres."

Dr Benseman says that typically small communities lose their 16-25 year olds because they move to bigger centres to further their education or attend university.

And for those who stay behind, he says the educational opportunities are often limited.

"I remember visiting an education programme just out of Tokoroa, where they were teaching welding," Dr Benseman says. "I was talking to a woman who was learning to weld, and I asked her if she wanted to be a welder. She said, "no, I want to be a landscape designer, but this was the only course I could get into"."

"Now, if you said that in Auckland they would mock you, but that is the reality of living in a small town."

However Dr Benseman says while some people in smaller centres struggle for educational opportunities, there are also many innovative things going on in those communities. "Many towns for example have excellent facilities and programmes in place, including workplace programmes, Internet-based education programmes, distance education and local programmes on maraes," Dr Benseman says.

The new research will look at how lifelong learning works in practice in small towns, how people use the facilities available to them, and what are the issues they face in doing so.

The research will also consider which groups of adults are catered for, and who are missing out, as well as the factors that encourage or hinder people from engaging in ongoing learning throughout their lives.

The research in Kaikoura and Central Hawkes Bay starts in February 2003 and Dr Benseman says the results are due to be announced later in the year.

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