Project will capture New Zealand’s literary history

29 January 2016
Jan Gaffney and Adena Emanuel
Professor Janet Gaffney and Adena Emanuel

Adena Emanuel is only 21-years old, but she’s helping research New Zealand’s long and successful history of literacy teaching and learning spanning over 100 years.

The University of Auckland student from Westmere has become a Summer Scholar at the Faculty of Education and Social Work. She’s assisting Professor Janet Gaffney on her investigation of The Unique Literacy Heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Janet has over 30 years’ experience of children’s literacy both in her native United States and New Zealand. She started the project in 2015 as a way of documenting the stories of the people and organisations behind New Zealand’s success in literacy.

Adena decided to become a summer scholar because she has become interested in equality in education during her studies towards a BA in Politics. She now plans to continue that line of study when she starts her BA Hons.

“It seems pretty ridiculous to me that where you live determines your life outcomesso greatly in New Zealand.”

She also feels it will help her return to study in the first semester without having experienced the ‘summer dip’ of having time off.

“Last summer I felt I didn’t do too much of purpose in the summer. I worked, and I had a good time, but I wanted to apply to be a Summer Scholar because I think it’s a purposeful way to spend your holidays,” she says.

“You get to put your effort towards doing something to make a difference and produce a piece of work.”

In her role as the project’s Summer Scholar, Adena is researching the educational groups that contributed to our literacy history, compiling the resources she finds into a Google data base and writing summaries about them for Janet to use during the project.

She is sourcing material from current and historic players in the story on New Zealand’s education literacy including the New Zealand Literacy Association (formerly New Zealand Reading Association), Early Reading In-service Course (ERIC), publishers Price Milburn, Learning Media, Wendy Pye, and children’s authors like Beverley Randell.

The process has allowed Adena to see how our education school system works.

“It was really eye-opening to me to see how it functions. Being so soon out of it, I have a new appreciation for our education system.

“I wasn’t aware how ground-breaking New Zealand was in literacy and what New Zealand has created.”

This year Janet plans to travel around New Zealand to interview the groups, plus about 30-40 individuals who have shaped the country’s educational literacy history.

She plans to complete the study this year, and have it published as a book in 2017. She hopes the book will serve as a testament to our internationally recognised achievements in literacy, and how we can learn from our successful past.

“It used to be that every teacher spoke the same language in terms of literacy and learning,” she says, “from Kaitaia to Bluff, from east to west, and all points in-between.

“If we can identify the factors that led to this era of innovation and accountability in New Zealand that attracted the attention of the world, then we can consider how to create the context for leading literacy learning and teaching for all of our children in 21st Century New Zealand.”


Anna Kellett, Media Relations Adviser