Hilti Family Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Malta


429,000 (2013)

Official languages

Maltese and English

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP

7.96 (2011)

Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 99.47%
Male: 98.52%
Both sexes: 98.98%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 95.80%
Male: 93.06%
Both sexes: 94.44%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleĦilti Family Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationFoundation for Educational Services (FES)
Language of InstructionMaltese or English
Programme PartnersState (through the Ministry of Education), European Union and the HSBC Cares for Children Fund
Date of Inception2001

Context and Background

Malta has one of the most developed and extensive public and private education systems in Europe. Pre-school, primary, secondary and post-secondary/tertiary education is free for all up to graduate degree level. Primary and secondary education for children aged 5 to 16 years has been compulsory since 1946 and 1971 respectively. The private sector, particularly the Catholic Church, has played an equally critical role in providing education opportunities to all Maltese with substantial subsidises from the government. As a result of these policies and programmes, educational participation rates and, by extension, literacy rates are very high in Malta. As of 2006, the net enrolment ratio (NER) in pre-primary (early childhood), primary and post-secondary/tertiary education had risen to near-universal rates of 95%, 91% and 70% respectively. Similarly, the total literacy rate had reached near-universal levels for youth (97%) and adults (92%) by 2006. The decrease in the illiteracy rate thus indicates a marked increase in the provision of access to education opportunities across all age groups, with particular emphasis on adult and lifelong learning.

Yet in spite of these achievements, much remains to be done to consolidate and build on the educational gains achieved to date. In particular, special attention is needed to eradicate regional and socio-economic disparities with regards to educational access and achievement. For example, a National Literacy Survey (NLS, 1999), which tested the phonological, literacy, reading and writing skills of state-school pupils aged 6 to 7 years revealed that children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds experienced difficulties learning and acquiring skills. In addition, their parents were not strongly involved in either the education of their children or school affairs.

One of the most important implications of the NLS results was that, in order to assist children with learning difficulties and/or literacy needs, it was critical to simultaneously promote parental involvement in both child learning and the operation of schools. The former entailed strong support for home-based learning initiatives through parental empowerment. The National Minimum Curriculum (1999) underlined the importance of parental involvement in the national education system thus:

The increasing recognition of the centrality of parental involvement in education and school life laid the foundations for the Family Literacy Programmes (FLPs) in Malta, which were set up by the Foundation for Educational Services (FES). The FES is a statutory body founded in 2001 to provide a range of innovative educational programmes including family literacy, parental empowerment and parental involvement in the education sector. These programmes were designed not only to complement the formal system but also to promote lifelong learning. The FES is largely funded by the state but receives some supplementary funding from the HSBC Cares for Children Fund and various Grundtvig projects.

Family Literacy Programmes

Family literacy programmes are a relatively new phenomenon in Malta, having been formally piloted by the University of Malta (Faculty of Education) in the year 2000. However, the initiative gained added momentum when it was formally adopted by the FES and, as a result, FLPs are now recognised as an integral tool for family learning and a key component of the mainstream national education system.

To date, the FES has developed four core family literacy/education support programmes:



Aims and Objectives

The FLPs aims to:

The Ħilti Programme is examined in greater detail below in order to fully appreciate the role of family education initiatives in simultaneously promoting children’s educational development and intergenerational lifelong learning.

The Ħilti Programme


The Ħilti Programme was initiated in 2001 as an after-school and community-based family literacy/educational initiative targeting early primary school children aged between 6 and 7 years (grades 1, 2 and 3), parents and teachers. The programme emerged from an increased awareness of the positive role of after-school learning activities and parental involvement in the educational development of children. To this end, the programme has facilitated the formation of school-based Ħilti Clubs (family literacy clubs) which brings together parents and their children to participate in family-oriented learning activities. The Clubs meet twice a week for about three months.

The Ħilti Programme was first piloted in six state primary schools, but quickly spread across the entire nation with strong collaboration and support from participating school administrations and parent councils. A number of primary schools have participated in the programme since its inception; for example, 38 schools and communities involving 2,534 children and 2,240 parents participated in the programme between late 2001 and mid-2005. Currently, Ħilti Clubs operate in 26 community-based primary schools and reach around 400 children and their parents per scholastic term. In addition, more than 50 «parent leaders» from Ħilti Clubs have been selected to spearhead other FLP activities.

Ħilti Programme Aims and Objectives

The Ħilti Programme aims to:


Essentially, therefore, the programme is being used as a vehicle to foster the transformation of the education system as a whole through the infusion of new teaching-learning practices (as such as learning through play and differentiated learning), and through increased parental involvement in learning and in supporting their children’s educational development. The latter principle emerged from the recognition that the parents of children with low literacy skills tend to display similar learning needs, hence such needs can often be effectively addressed by triggering parents’ interest in assisting their children’s educational development.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methods

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The programme is implemented through school-based Ħilti Clubs with assistance from professional teachers employed by the Education Division and volunteer assistants who have received an equivalent level of training. However, in order to ensure the provision of high quality family literacy training and thereby enhance the effectiveness of the programme, all teachers and volunteers employed by the FES are required to participate in an intensive 112-hour training programme in family literacy teaching-learning approaches, as well as teaching methods designed for learners with mixed abilities. Thereafter, professional development is facilitated through ongoing refresher courses. Each teacher/tutor is responsible for a single Ħilti Club comprising, on average, 8 to 12 families (children and their parents). The low learner-to-tutor ratio is strategically intended to enhance programme effectiveness by enabling teachers to pay particular attention to individual literacy and psycho-social development needs.

Enrolment of Learners


Host schools identify and select children in need of extra literacy training or social development assistance. The parents of participating children are obliged to attend and take part in Ħilti Club activities. The schools also decide whether to focus on literacy (Maltese or English) or numeracy, in addition to other skills such as health (personal hygiene, nutrition) and inter-personal relations. However, on principle, all Ħilti Club activities contain in-built literacy and/or numeracy concepts and skills.

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methodologies

The programme predominantly employs interactive teaching-learning methodologies such as play-to-learn approaches that involve games, drama, sports and group activities. These are supported by «joint» child-parent learning sessions (see pictures below), which are mediated by the tutors, and further reinforced through repetition in the home environment. The parents do not participate in Ħilti Club activities solely as learners; they are also there to influence their children’s learning development and learn to fulfil their own potential as co-teachers, lifelong learners and, ultimately, leaders of other parents.

The programme relies on a number of teaching-learning materials based on key FES publications in both Maltese and English. These include two bilingual reading packs targeting children aged 6-7 and 7-8, as well as a guidebook for parents which focuses on how they can base a range of activities in the home on the themes contained in the children’s books.

Programme Impact and Achievements

Since its inception, the Ħilti Programme has been evaluated extensively by senior FES (internal) and external professionals, with the former undertaking assessment visits on an ongoing basis. In both cases, however, qualitative and quantitative methods were employed to assess and evaluate the participants’ (children, parents, teachers and schools) perceptions of the programme’s impact on educational development and lifelong learning. In particular, parents, Ħilti Club tutors, day-school teachers and school administration authorities were asked to evaluate criteria such as classroom participation, attainment, motivation and psycho-social development. The results of these evaluation processes indicate that the programme has major benefits for all participating parties. These benefits include:


In a nutshell, the Ħilti programme has played a critical role in:



Ms Rachel Schembri
Deputy CEO
National Literacy Agency
Ministry of Education and Employment
telephone: +356 2598 2130

Last update: 16 July 2010