Hilti Family Literacy Programme
Country Profile: Malta
Maltese and English
|Total expenditure on education as % of GDP|
|Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)|
|Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)|
|Programme Title||Ħilti Family Literacy Programme|
|Implementing Organization||Foundation for Educational Services (FES)|
|Language of Instruction||Maltese or English|
|Programme Partners||State (through the Ministry of Education), European Union and the HSBC Cares for Children Fund|
|Date of Inception||2001|
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:
- An effective educational system recognises the link between the home environment and variations in pupil achievement. When possible, the education of children should be linked to educational and participatory programmes for their parents or guardians. Students who are denied a support system outside the school should be given special attention.
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:
- The Ħilti Programme (My Ability): As described below, the Ħilti programme is an after-school, family-oriented educational project that endeavours to complement and reinforce school-based teaching and learning.
- The NWAR (Late Blossoms) Programme: This programme was initiated in 2002 as a variation of the Ħilti programme. It was designed for parents with children with severe reading and writing (learning) difficulties and, as a result, parental participation in the programme is obligatory to ensure continuity between home and school-based learning. Participation in the programme is limited to two families per tutor and lasts for a minimum of four months (or one semester). This period can, however, be extended according to the learning needs of the child. Each learner has an individual learning programme (ILP) which facilitates the provision of intensive and appropriate literacy assistance to children. The ILP is based on a multi-sensory, synthetic, phonics-based methodology in which the parent is trained to emulate the teacher, repeating the strategies used in the classroom at home in order to enhance children’s mastery of literacy skills.
- The Parents-in-Education Programme (Programme Id f’ Id) and the Parent Empowerment for Family Literacy Project (PEFaL): These are parent capacity-building and empowerment initiatives. They include the following key components:
- Parents’ Sessions in Ħilti Clubs: Parents with children participating in the Ħilti programme are encouraged to learn and use practical tools that stimulate their children to learn more effectively. They also participate in child learning activities and discuss educational strategies with teachers.
- Parent-to-Parent Initiatives: Parents, in collaboration with FES personnel, engage in various parent-to-parent empowerment initiatives. A team of parent leaders has been set up and trained to provide, under teacher supervision and guidance, courses to other parents. This programme was short-listed for the European Parents’ Association’s Alcuin Award in both 2002 and 2003, and received a special mention.
- Community Literacy Outreach Projects: The initiative involves the participation of the family in community-focused literacy programmes executed in popular open-air spaces.
- The Malta Writing Programme: This is a two-month programme which endeavours to teach basic reading and creative writing skills with a view to contributing towards language learning and teaching in Malta. In addition, the programme aims to promote action-based research and lifelong learning. To achieve these goals, FES organizes separate creative training workshops for Young Writers (children aged 8 to 13) and parents, as well as collective Family Writing Clubs (FWC). Parents enrol in the FWCs so that they can learn both to nurture their children’s writing skills and to develop their own reading and writing skills.
Aims and Objectives
The FLPs aims to:
- enhance both community development and parental empowerment through learning and active involvement in the learning process of children;
- promote intergenerational, home-based, lifelong learning;
- empower parents as co-educators, learners and parent leaders in order to promote intergenerational lifelong learning as well as to facilitate their socio-economic integration into mainstream society;
- help children to develop literacy skills in a holistic, play-to-learn context;
- improve parents’ literacy skills in order to enhance the provision of early childhood education; and
- create strong links between home and school learning processes in order to promote lifelong learning.
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:
- complement and strengthen school-based teaching and learning activities through the provision of after-school assistance to children;
- help children to develop literacy skills in a holistic, play-to-learn context;
- empower parents by equipping them to act as community leaders and effective first educators for their children;
- improve the efficiency of the education system through active parental involvement in child education;
- harness children’s eagerness to work and learn with parents in order to enhance their ability to acquire literacy skills;
- assist schools in capacity-building in order to foster a family literacy ethos and develop resources and tools (practices); and
- nurture and entrench the development of a family-based, lifelong learning ethos within Maltese families.
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:
Improved psycho-social development: Child assessments before and after participating in Ħilti Club activities indicate that the programme promotes holistic, psycho-social development. Children exhibited improved self-esteem, self-confidence and inter-personal (social, communication) skills after participating in the programme. Most importantly, the programme has had major benefits on children's educational development, showing improvements in the acquisition of literacy skills, the development of creative and critical thinking skills, educational attainment and the ability to learn. For example, most children admitted during interviews that the programme has stimulated their interest in learning in order to achieve better results. These results are particularly important in view of the fact the Ħilti programme primarily aims to assist children with literacy and social development needs.
Impact of parental participation on children’s educational development: Evaluation results indicate a strong correlation between parental participation in their children’s education and the children’s educational progress in terms of literacy, participation in classroom activities, and personal and social skills. Data collected from day-school teachers showed statistically significant correlations (p<0.005) between a) children’s increase in literacy development and parents’ rate of participation, and b) children’s participation in the programme and improvements in their literacy, personal and social skills.
Social Impacts: Parents and children strongly feel that participation in family literacy programmes is beneficial both for education and for the development of personal and social skills. Hence, approximately 90% of parents believe that the programme has improved their parenting capabilities as manifested by, for example, improved relations and communication with their children; an increased capacity and willingness to assist their children with their school work; and higher involvement in school affairs. According to one parent: «I was impressed by how the parents, including myself, worked with our children. My daughter was very happy that I was with her, helping her along. She used to wait for me to show me her work because she knows I like it that she does that.» (http://www.fes.org.mt/programmes/h_about.html)
The programme has also had positive and enriching benefits on participating teachers and their schools, and thus the education system in general. Teachers participating in Ħilti Club activities have adopted a range of teaching-learning tools and strategies to enrich their classroom practices, including: the use of phonics and individualised learning plans for students with literacy difficulties; and inter-personal and participatory methods. Additionally, these teachers are more inclined to cooperate actively with parents, thereby creating strong links between children’s school and home learning, and, by extension, opening up possibilities for the institutionalisation of intergenerational lifelong learning in Malta. Accordingly, about 90% of school heads stated that programme is effective in terms of children’s and adults’ learning experiences and actively encouraged parental participation in the school.
In a nutshell, the Ħilti programme has played a critical role in:
- enhancing children’s social and literacy development even in a severe literacy needs context;
- enhancing lifelong learning among parents;
- empowering parents to become parent leaders (i.e. significant resource persons in their educational community); and
- enhancing home-school links and the school’s perceptions of the potential for parental involvement.
- Education in Malta
- Foundation of Education Services (Ministry of Education)
- Schembri Meli, Mariangela: Family Literacy as a key prevention strategy for literacy attainment in Malta : QualiFLY G2 Project Meeting, Istanbul, 14-16 November 2005.
- S. Spiteri, and J. Camilleri: Family Literacy in Malta : an Effective Strategy for Enhanced Literacy, Parental Involvement and Lifelong Learning. Foundation for Educational Services (FES).
- UNESCO: Family Literacy : a Global Approach
Last update: 16 July 2010