Kawerau mother-of-four Debbie Ngamoki is being forced to rethink her future, for two reasons - her marriage has just broken up, and she now expects to be work-tested when her youngest child turns 6.

Ms Ngamoki, one of 20 adult students learning traditional Maori flax weaving at Te Wananga o Aotearoa's Kawerau campus, grasped the opportunity last year after she and her partner brought their children home from Australia.

"I love weaving. I've been learning a lot about my own culture that I didn't even know," she said.

But her partner could not find a job.

"We came back here and everything just crumbled - no work. If it wasn't for that reason we would have been still together," she said.

"I'm having to rethink my studies now because I'm on the DPB. My youngest child is 2 but I have to think about my future before she turns 6, so I'm thinking of going on to early childhood learning."

Carol Kohi, another flax weaver, whose youngest child is 5, is more reluctant to give away her goal.

"I plan to make a lifestyle of weaving, market what I can, just live the artist lifestyle. I can't see any reason why we can't make a living off our arts," she said.

"Now that the Government has brought this in, I'm going to have to rethink my future. It's a shame. Weaving to me is like a dream." Unfortunately it's not a high-income job. "If it gets too much of a struggle then I'll just have to go back to work, I've never had problems in the past."

Nicola Gates, a former soldier who is now the solo mother of five children under 9, planned to retrain as a nurse even before the work test for sole parents was announced. "I'm thinking of my children," she said.

Non-vocational courses such as the flax weaving course are common. Te Wananga o Aotearoa runs them at its other three Bay of Plenty campuses as well as at Kawerau and in other regions. For some students they are transformational.

"It's got me back into learning," said May Te Pou, a mother-of-three who has completed the three-year weaving course and is now doing a master's degree through AUT University. "I thought I'm dumb, but I've been slowly tutored on how to research, how to communicate, and getting a network up and running."

The wananga also runs courses in Kawerau on computing, forestry, te reo Maori, sport and fitness, with more than 100 students in all. Kawerau College also provides some tertiary-funded courses, but most vocational courses require travelling to Rotorua, Tauranga or Whakatane.

Ms Ngamoki said most sole parents did not have cars to get to courses or jobs out of town and she worried about who would look after their children.

"You've got the threat of them answering the door at night to some crazy person. That's quite scary, especially when you don't have that partner there," she said.

But Ms Te Pou said training would be crucial.

"If the Government pushes us into labouring jobs, that's not setting the kids a high standard. I want to connect with my Maori identity, not just have KFC, ABC, DPB," she said.

"My 17-year-old is seeing me struggle to make it to AUT. He's recognising, 'No, I see this education now'."