Five years on, Malala finally goes to Oxford

Making plans: “Ik you miss me but i am coming to oxford in 2years,” tweeted her brother. © Getty

Has she changed anything? Five years after being shot for campaigning for girls’ education, Malala is studying at Oxford. And yet millions of “Malalas” still cannot go to school in Pakistan.

Five years and two days ago, a bus full of high school students was making its way down one of the beautiful country roads in Swat Valley, Pakistan. They had just finished a test. They were laughing, joking, and singing. Then two men boarded the bus and shot a girl in the head.

That girl, of course, was Malala Yousafzai. At 15 she had already begun to make a name for herself as a campaigner for girls’ education. The Taliban, which had tried to ban education for girls in Pakistan, happily claimed responsibility.

Malala was rushed to hospital, and then flown to England. She survived her injuries — and then she thrived. In the last five years she has published two books, been awarded the Nobel prize for peace, and received three As in her A-Levels. On Monday, the anniversary of her shooting, she tweeted a picture from her first lectures at Oxford University.

Malala’s story has inspired many people around the world. She says she hopes to be prime minister of Pakistan one day. Earlier this year she was made a UN ambassador for peace, and the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called her a “hero”.

And yet in Pakistan, not everyone agrees. Although many people were appalled by the attack, they are unsure about her subsequent fame. “There are many Malalas in Pakistan and all around the world,” a Pakistani woman told The Guardian after her Nobel prize in 2014. “Why don’t the Americans and British talk about those girls?”

She is right. In March this year, Human Rights Watch published a new report on education in Pakistan. It found that 25m children are still out of school. There were 867 attacks on educational institutions between 2007 and 2015. Extremists have “destroyed school buildings, targeted teachers and students, and terrorized parents into keeping their children out of school”. They have particularly gone after girls.

Days after Malala’s attack, Newsweek published a story calling her “the girl who changed Pakistan”. But has she really made a difference?

Making change

Sadly not, say some. Clearly, despite all of the awareness that Malala has raised, things in some areas of Pakistan have not improved much. The Taliban’s war on education continues to put many young girls, their families, and their teachers at risk. Sometimes we must accept that our heroes have very little power to change things.

Of course she has not transformed an entire country in five years. But that does not mean she is powerless, argue Malala’s fans. Her foundation is trying to improve education where it is needed most, including in Pakistan. And her story continues to inspire people and highlight the need for change. Give her time; she will keep changing the world.

You Decide

  1. Can a single person change the world?
  2. Has Malala made a difference to people’s lives in Pakistan?


  1. Write a list of the most inspirational people alive today. Then discuss: how have they changed the world?
  2. Inspired by Malala’s original blog posts about education for BBC Urdu (found under Become An Expert) spend a week writing your own diary about your country’s education system. This time next week, discuss whether it changed the way you see your school.

Some People Say...

“If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?”

Malala Yousafzai

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last year a UNESCO report estimated that in total there are around 263m children and young people who are missing out on school. That includes 61m who are primary school age, and 202m of secondary school age. Of these, around 130m are girls. The UN has a target that all children should have access to quality, free education by 2030.
What do we not know?
Whether the UN will reach these targets. Many children who do not go to school live in extremely poor areas, or areas being torn apart by war and conflict, or both. Although the UN plans to build more schools, encourage more scholarships, and increase the number of teachers, it does not have the power to change the policies of individual governments; and certainly not groups like the Taliban.

Word Watch

Swat Valley
This district in north Pakistan is known for its mountains and lakes.
Malala Yousafzai
Malala began writing about education for BBC Urdu aged 11.
A terrorist organisation based in Afghanistan. The Taliban took over Swat Valley, where Malala lived, between 2007 and 2009; it banned girls from attending school.
Nobel prize for peace
Malala became the youngest Nobel prize winner in 2014. She shared the award with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children’s rights and education activist.
The report is called Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan. It is based on 48 interviews with students, parents and teachers in Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.
Around 13m of these young people are girls.
867 attacks
The report took these statistics from the Global Terrorism Database.
Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai co-founded the Malala Fund in 2013. It supports education activists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and countries housing the most Syrian refugees.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.