A Māori educationalist says Māori without basic literacy and numeracy skills have nothing to be ashamed of, but must seek help which is readily available.
50 percent of Māori adults are below the world minimum standard.
Keith Ikin from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research is working on a national plan to raise their literacy and numeracy standards by 20 percent in five years.
"This is an issue that can be resolved - individuals and whānau need not feel the weight of stigma."
Mr Ikin said there were really good services available in communities around the country to help which were accessible.
He said there needed to be a national campaign similar to the one fronted by Sir John Kirwan on mental illness.
"We make this issue a visible issue, one that is talked about within whānau. One that individuals and whānau can take on board for themselves, to access the services that they need."
Mr Ikin said half of Māori adults being below the world minimum standards resulted in welfare dependancy, being locked out of well-paid jobs, low self-esteem and a daily struggle with simple tasks such as budgeting and form filling.
He said it was not just holding tāngata whenua adults back, but damaging whānau and the country's economic future.
Mr Ikin described it as a devastating cycle, and said that within the next 15 years Māori will make up almost 20
percent of the workforce.