Speaking Up for the Right to Education – I am Malala

Pakistan’s political instability, religious and ethnic tensions, and high rate of violence prevent the nation from providing quality education to the country’s children, particularly its girls. Writing under a pseudonym for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 11-year-old Malala Yousafzai detailed the oppression she faced growing up as a girl under Taliban rule, and, after rising in prominence, she was shot by a masked gunman. The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, launched a petition in her name, using the slogan “I am Malala,” demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015—a petition that helped lead to the ratification of Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill.

In this lesson, students will discuss the importance of equal access to education and the particular barriers that girls face and will learn how they can speak for others. CNN and ABC interviews with Malala, as well as her speech to the United Nations and World Bank statistics on girls’ education, will be used as supplemental materials. Students will later have the opportunity to “Become a Defender” by forming action groups that identify issues to work on that will ultimately lead up to a school-wide Day of Action.

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in the Swat district of Pakistan. In 2007, the Taliban began fighting the Pakistani government for control of Swat. Among their restrictive laws, the Taliban declared girls would no longer be allowed to go to school. Malala, who was only 11, was willing to risk speaking out. Originally posting online under a pseudonym, she shared stories about life under the Taliban. Inspired by her father’s pro-education activism, she eventually revealed her real name and began advocating for education as a human right for girls.

Her international renown came with increased danger. On October 9, 2012, a gunman shot her on a bus full of girls. Malala was rushed to the hospital, treated by the best doctors, and survived to continue her fight. With her father, she established the Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to giving every girl access to free, safe, quality education. Malala has also held world leaders accountable for their promises to girls. In recognition of her work, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, becoming the youngest-ever Nobel laureate. Malala, who graduated from the University of Oxford in 2020, remains dedicated to education, equality, and her message of peace.

Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates.