While the battle over how to “fix” schools continues to rage, there are some places in the world where the fight is over whether you can even go to school at all.

Should we switch to charter schools?  How should we compensate teachers?  How important is standardized testing?  Will my school be attacked today?  The last question is one that those in the United States rarely ever ask.  Despite some recent violence, there is reasonable assurance that we can safely send our children to school.

girl writing on blackboard

School is anything but safe in places like Ghalanai.
Image: Shutterstock

For students in Ghalanai, an area in the mountainous region of Pakistan’s tribal belt, they worry that each day may be their last.  Despite the fact that their “school” is more of a tent beside a bombed-out building, surrounded by a wall and armed guards, it is theirs.

“We need to assure parents that it’s safe,” said Noor Haider, a local tribal leader who took on school security after Taliban militants bombed the school three years ago.

“Extreme measures have become necessary as Taliban militants have pressed their violent campaign against girls’ education in northwestern Pakistan, bombing schools and terrifying pupils and parents.”

Education authorities say that more than 800 schools in the region have been attacked since 2009.  However, one of the most heinous attacks was on a 15-year old schoolgirl last October.  Malala Yousafzai wanted what most girls want – the right for all girls to get a formal education.

Shockingly, she was shot in the head in an attempt to silence her struggles.  A Taliban member put a target on her back and shot her while she was on the bus on her way to school.

Thankfully, Yousafzai was able to be evacuated to Britain where she received reconstructive surgery on her shattered skull.  Amazingly, she recovered and began attending school in Britain.  Her family was afraid she would be attacked again were she to return to Pakistan.

Thankful to be alive and celebrating her 16th birthday, she gave an address to a youth assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York to talk about bravery and educational activism.  She noted that she was not seeking revenge, but rather called on world leaders to change policies in favor of peace and prosperity.

“They thought that the bullets would silence us but they failed,” she said. “And then, out of that silence, came thousands of voices,” Yousafzai said. 

Cover Image: Patrick Poendl / Shutterstock.com