There’s been a lot of talk in the news about education recently. With President Obama’s tour of Northeast college campuses, the approaching climax of the student loan debate in Congress, and the New York City mayoral candidates debating new education programs in the Big Apple, education is the hot-button issue just as the new school year is beginning.
But the real education news story for this fall is Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai's new book, I Am Malala. The memoir, which will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK and the Commonwealth and by Little, Brown in the rest of the world, is this young girl’s story of how she almost lost her life fighting for education equality last year when she was shot in the head by Taliban combatants.
Here are five reasons why you should read her book.
1. Yousafzai began writing a diary for BBC Urdu online at age 11 under the pen name Gul Makai, in which she described her daily struggle just going to school.
“My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.”
“I was in a bad mood while going to school because winter vacations are starting from tomorrow. The principal announced the vacations but did not mention the date the school was to reopen. This was the first time this has happened….This time round, the girls were not too excited about vacations because they knew if the Taleban implemented their edict they would not be able to come to school again.”
2. She was awarded the 2012 Tipperary International Peace Award this week and is nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
3. July 12 is now considered “Malala Day” thanks to the UN. Yousafzai and 500 youth delegates from 85 different countries celebrated her 16th birthday that day at the UN headquarters in New York City while advocating for greater access to education.
4. After Yousafzai was shot, a Taliban commander wrote to her saying she provoked the attack because she was “running a smearing campaign to malign [Taliban] efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat” and because her " writings were provocative." Anyone who can provoke that sort of reaction from the Taliban is worth paying attention to.
5. Apparently, more than 57 million children around the world do not go to primary school, according to the Department for International Development. A 2008 estimate from the Global Campaign for Education says 60% of those children are girls. Yousafzai’s home country of Pakistan alone has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Only 50% of the population can read, and only 35% of those who can are female, compared to 62% being males.
This last reason above all else should motivate you to take a look at what Yousafzai has spent her very short time on Earth fighting for. She said it best in her speech at the UN: “So here I stand...one girl among many. I speak — not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights: Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.”
So as some of us set off to our first class this fall or wave goodbye to our children as the yellow school bus drives away, let us remember those who will not be attending school that day and how we can change that for the better.