Low Literacy & Numeracy Research

The overarching goal of this project is to provide policy recommendations to improve life-course trajectories and socio-economic outcomes of adults living with low literacy and/or numeracy (L+N) skills. This research is aimed at shaping the ways in which we deal with literacy and numeracy issues in NZ with a focus on effective intervention.

The expression, experience and transcendence of low skills in Aotearoa New Zealand


This five-year programme spans October 2019-2024.


Last updated 12 October 2020

Further information about the project

This programme applies a mixed-method approach to the following research aims:

  • To build a detailed population-wide picture of those with low L+N skills;
  • Analyse their life-course pathways and effectiveness of interventions with respect to a range of economic and social outcomes;
  • Forecast future changes in population skill level; and
  • Develop an understanding of the barriers and enablers that build resilience to risk, along with a pathway to transcend low skills.

Research elements


Over 1.3 million adult New Zealanders live with low literacy and/or numeracy (L+N) skills, with a strong over-representation of Māori and Pacific peoples. This has significant economic and social costs, including increased risk of unemployment and poverty, detrimental effects on physical and mental well-being, and decreased social and political attachment. Importantly, this complex policy problem occurs against a backdrop of extensive structural change in the labour market, including future of work megatrends such as accelerated technological progress, which has the potential to further marginalise low-skilled adults.

Using a range of empirical methods with PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) data, as well as administrative data in the IDI (Integrated Data Infrastructure), this research programme will build a detailed, population-wide picture of those with low L+N skills.

Different life-course pathways and interventions will be analysed with respect to a range of economic and social outcomes, and future changes in population skill level will be forecast. Combined with the qualitative work this will build an understanding of the barriers and enablers that build resilience to this risk and pathways to transcend low skills.

The exploration of the life-course trajectories and evaluation of intervention effectiveness will facilitate improved public service delivery aimed at improving the economic and social outcomes of those living with low L+N skills in NZ.


OECD representation

Portland State University

  • Stephen Reder


  • Marco Paccagnella

University of Waikato

  • Bridgette Masters-Awatere (MPRU)
  • Mohi Rua (MRPU)
  • Jane Furness
  • Gemma Piercy-Cameron
  • Bill Cochrane

Auckland University of Technology



Research outputs

Find a full list of this project's outputs.

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