Celebrating Adult Learners Week

11 September 2015

Northland’s largest tertiary education provider is backing its students during Adult Learners Week.

NorthTec tutors were asked to nominate students aged over 25 who provided inspiration to their fellow learners.

All those nominated were presented with a certificate and a NorthTec branded scarf, in front of their classmates. Twenty-eight domestic students were nominated, as well as six international students.

NorthTec has a high proportion of adult learners, from all walks of life and studying at all levels. Many are “second-chance” learners who have returned to the classroom later in life, with the aim of upskilling themselves or gaining new skills to bring about a career change.

They prove that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, make life-changing decisions or tackle things that you never thought you could do.

Marci-Lee Cowles – Bachelor of Applied Management

Marci-Lee Cowles, currently in her first year of studying for a degree in management, was nominated by her tutor, Rob Meadows.

She and her husband made the decision that they would both return to education in order to give their family of five children a better life. So while Marci-Lee, from Moerewa, studies in Whangarei, her husband is studying carpentry back home in the Mid North.

They have resigned themselves to having a busy few years while they juggle studying with part-time work and family life because they are determined to give their children, aged from three to 13, the chance to gain a good education themselves.

Marci-Lee says she finds her studies challenging but fascinating, as she took the plunge back into education despite knowing that she has always struggled with reading. It was her strong Christian faith that made her believe she could gain a degree despite the obstacles, and she is now enjoying the support of her tutors as she learns about management theories and strategies.

The former early childhood worker is aiming to be employed in hapū and iwi development after graduation. She says: “There are some great initiatives happening in Kaikohe but I felt I couldn’t contribute any more with the skills that I had - I really needed to upgrade my skills.

“I realised that my husband and I were never going to get anywhere with us both just working a 40-hour week. We couldn’t have much of a lifestyle, we couldn’t travel or offer our kids a good education because we couldn’t afford it. We both decided we have got to change our lives and have a better income but also help in our community.”

Marci-Lee, whose iwi is Ngāpuhi and hapū is Ngati Kuta, hopes eventually to move into a management role in an iwi or hapū-based organisation. She says: “I want to be able to help. There are some great initiatives that our hapū and iwi have developed and their strategic plans are amazing – I would like to be part of that.

“Education is the way forward, both for me and for our hapū and iwi. Everybody has a place developmentally where they can step into education, and there is a place for everybody to be educated.”
Tutor Rob Meadows said Marci-Lee is inspirational because she participates fully in every class, is always positive and enthusiastic and sets herself high standards for achievement. She is also very inclusive of all her fellow students.

He said: “Marci-Lee has a lot on with her studies and her family, and she also does volunteer work in her community. She is taking what she is learning straight back to the community, applying what she has learned and passing that on.”

Henry Mackie – Bachelor of Applied Social Service

Henry Mackie is studying for a Bachelor of Applied Social Service. A former pub manager who spent many years in the hospitality industry, Henry never had any ambitions to be a social worker.

But when his elderly mother, who also suffered from several chronic medical conditions, was in need of a full-time carer, Henry’s view of the world started to change. He came back home and looked after his mother until she passed away, and along that journey he came into contact with social workers in the health sector.

After talking to a male patient who had regular dialysis alongside his mother, Henry realised there was a shortage of male social workers and began to think he could make a difference.

He applied to study at NorthTec, but right up to the start of the programme he had doubts about whether this was right for him. Even as his studies got under way, he was unsure whether to continue.

Luckily for Henry, inspiration came in the form of his social services tutor, Mary Farrelly. She encouraged him to give it a go for a couple of weeks before making a decision, and in that time, Henry says, he became hooked on the programme and found it fascinating.

He said: “The first week was just so overwhelming, with study and reading material, I even thought about quitting and going back to my previous work. It was just the way Mary taught and her positive manner, she urged me to stick at it - so I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed her classes and haven’t looked back since. The classes have been fascinating and I find them extremely satisfying and mentally stimulating.”

Henry also loves his class, with a broad mix of ages, cultures and nationalities. Being in a class where the youngest student is 17 and the oldest approaching 60 means that the subject matter is viewed from a variety of perspectives. The same applies to the “unique mix” of nationalities in the class, with Māori and other New Zealanders working alongside learners from the UK, South Africa, China, India and Germany.

In his first year of his three-year degree, Henry is also looking forward to the future. His initial plan was to work with young people and adolescents, but having volunteered at Lifeline and the North Haven hospice, he is considering other options. He might choose to specialise as a health-related social worker, or become a counsellor, he says.

Whatever he chooses, it will be in a role that helps others, and one that he has a passion for. And the journey of studying will have given him a new perspective on life.


Adult Learners Week – He Tangata Mātauranga – is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) initiative supported by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, the Tertiary Education Commission and adult and community education providers. The Week, which this year runs from September 7 to 13, also incorporates International Literacy Day on September 8 each year.

It was established in New Zealand in 1998 with the goal of raising the profile of adult learning and is an opportunity to celebrate the successes and achievements of everyone participating in Adult and Community Education (ACE).

It has also become a vehicle for encouraging anyone in the wider community with needs or desires that can be met through learning to consider adult education, whether it be learning to adjust to life in a new country, retraining to find employment, adjusting to life after prison, acquiring parenting skills or just getting out to meet people and doing an activity to make life better.