Illustration by Michael Rea

Malala Yousafzai: “The pandemic taught me to think beyond traditional schooling”

The Nobel Prize winner answers our quick-fire questions
December 9, 2021

What is the first news event you can recall?

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007—the news that shook the whole country. 

What is the biggest problem of all?

More than 130m girls are out of school—yet we see little attention to this global issue. Education is the best way to protect against future crises. If all girls completed secondary school, they could add up to $30 trillion to the global economy. Educating girls also improves public health, reduces poverty and lowers the risk of conflict. 

If you could spend a day in one city or place at one moment in history, what would that be?

I would spend one day with Plato in ancient Athens. 

What is your favourite quotation? 

Pashtun activist Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, wisely said: “If you wish to know how civilised a culture is, look at how they treat their women.” 

What is the cause dearest to your heart?

Girls’ education. 

Which of your ancestors or relatives are you most proud of?

My paternal grandmother. Her name was Mahroh—but we affectionately called her Abai. 

What have you changed your mind about?

The pandemic taught me to think beyond traditional schooling, with students in a classroom with four walls. At Malala Fund, I witnessed our global partners innovate to keep girls learning through school closures. They used TV cartoon series, educational radio broadcasts and digital tools. It’s more important than ever to make education more accessible. 

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I’m quite good at performing magic tricks. 

What is the last piece of music, play, novel or film that brought you to tears?

Things don’t often bring me to tears. But I found the second season of Ted Lasso—following his personal journey—to be quite moving. 

Which language do you dream in?

Oftentimes, I can’t even recall what language I’m thinking in. My dreams are mostly in Pashto. I do switch between Urdu, Pashto and English though. 

What do you most regret? 

I have no regrets… It’s good to reflect on the past, but I think it’s better to move forward and do better next time.

What do you do when you feel stuck?

I always take time to ensure I have a complete understanding of a given situation. I listen to colleagues, mentors, professionals, close friends and teachers—and I attempt to see how much my initial perspective changes with more information. I value hearing different opinions. But taking too long can cost time and reduce confidence. So once I make my decision, I stand by it. 

Do you have any hope for the future of Afghanistan?

Afghan women and girls know what it’s like to go to school and to take part in society working as teachers, doctors, journalists and more. With their futures under threat, these women are speaking out for rights to equality, education and peace. They give me hope.