The WEA started with an idea: the idea that so-called “ordinary” working people should have access to the kind of learning that was available to those privileged to be able to study full time. Today, a century later, the emphasis continues to be on learning which values the life and work of all participants. By “work” we mean all the contributions, both paid and unpaid, that people make to society. Rather than focussing on gaining qualifications, we stand for open entry, no examinations, low-cost cooperative learning, creative subjects, social and political issues, community development, as well as personal growth and development.
Because of the voluntary nature of the organisation, WEAs can respond to their communities' learning needs with more flexibility and informality than is possible in institution-based programmes. This can be especially appropriate, both for people who have been switched-off learning as a result of school experiences having been unfulfilling for them, and for the elderly, who want to keep their minds active and who gain most from learning in small doses in friendly surroundings.
One facet of WEA tutoring is that time must be allowed for discussion of the study material. One of the very early tutors summed up this aspect when, in 1911, he described his experience as a fellowship with his students, and said, with typical humility, that he owed them much. “The friendly smitings of potters, weavers, miners and engineers have taught me much about problems of political and economic science which cannot easily be learned from books.” In some cases, there is no single tutor, but resource material is made available to the group.
There are five WEAs in this country, and there is a nationwide WEA Book Discussion Scheme, involving 1000 groups from Mangonui to Invercargill. Our common objective is to advance, encourage and provide continuing and community education that promotes a just and equitable society.
WEAs around the world have formed the International Federation of WEAs (IFWEA), which has consultative status as an NGO with UNESCO.
In 2009 the Government cut funding to many community education programmes around New Zealand, by directing funding to a more narrow focus of courses. In order to retain the broad perspective on community education which WEAs represent, we have progressed without Government assistance, relying on other community funders.
While this change has impacted on the operations of WEAs, we continue to be committed, challenging and forward looking.
We are affiliated to the International Federation of WEAs, click here to visit their site