SALT LAKE CITY — It's almost impossible to comprehend how much Malala Yousafzai has already been through in her 21 years of life.
Yousafzai shared some insights into her experiences and mission Thursday as the keynote speaker on the final day of Utah tech education company Pluralsight's annual user conference in downtown Salt Lake City.
The goal that guides her work as a champion and advocate for the equitable education of women and children across the world is as simple as it is daunting.
Pluralsight co-founder and CEO Aaron Skonnard, who moderated the conversation with Yousafzai, noted she had once told former President Barack Obama that, "Instead of trying to eradicate terror through war, we're better off trying to eradicate terror through education." She underscored her feelings that combating violence with violence is a vicious and unproductive cycle.
"When one terrorist is killed, dozens of civilians are killed," Yousafzai said. "The cycle of extremism carries on. The sons or daughters or family of that terrorist pick up guns, and it carries on."
The Pakistani woman is the world's youngest Nobel laureate, having won the Peace Prize in 2014 at just 17 — a recognition of her work as a champion and advocate for the equitable education of women and children across the world. She was also the subject of a 2015 Oscar-nominated documentary film, "He Named Me Malala" as well as the founder of the Malala Fund, a nonprofit effort dedicated to breaking down barriers to girls and young women receiving equal education opportunities.
Yousafzai explained that her focus on the importance of education for women evolved directly from her experiences as a young student with members of the Taliban who sought to prevent girls from attending school in her hometown in northern Pakistan.
"I loved my school and loved my books," Yousafzai said. "The fact was, I could see that many girls who did not have an education were not able achieve their futures, achieve their dreams."
In 2009, Yousafzai said she reached a point where she knew she had to take action.
"I woke up around 10 a.m. one day and realized, 'This is shocking,'" Yousafzai said. "'I cannot go to school today. These men who have guns in their hands who do not believe in women empowerment … do not want girls to go to school because they know it is through education that women get empowered.'
"It was at that point that I actually realized that education is more than just reading and writing, and that’s why I started speaking out."
Her decision to make a stand, which included launching a blog at the age of 11 aimed at pushing back on the acts of Muslim extremists in Pakistan who opposed girls and women attending schools, also made her a target.
In October 2012, a Taliban gunman attempted to assassinate Yousafzai as she rode a bus home after taking an exam. Yousafzai and two other girls were shot. She suffered a severe head wound and after receiving emergency care in Pakistan, was transferred to a hospital in Birmingham, England. The incident earned global attention and widespread condemnation of the Taliban's decision to target a 15-year-old who stood in defiance of the group's actions.
Yousafzai would recover from her injury and go on to become a world-renowned spokeswoman and activist. She published a memoir in 2013, "I am Malala," and is currently attending Oxford University. Yousafzai told the standing-room only crowd at the Grand America Hotel ballroom Thursday that she sees signs that her work is making a difference.
"We're already seeing positive changes in Pakistan," Yousafzai said. "I'm feeling really positive that not just in Pakistan but globally there's a realization that girls' education is crucial and that we need to invest in girls' education."
Education investments were part of Pluralsight's announcements Thursday as well, with the company highlighting a $1.5 million donation to Code.org, a nonprofit working globally to expand access to computer science in schools and increase participation in tech education by women and underrepresented minorities.
The support comes via the company's Pluralsight One effort, a project Skonnard said is aiming to "democratize technology skills" by making education in tech available to "anyone with the desire and passion" to pursue it. In addition to the Code.org financial support, Skonnard said the company has also partnered with the Computer Science Teachers Association and will be granting free access to teachers who are seeking to pass computer science certification exams.
Skonnard, who has been an outspoken champion of computer science education, said tech education is "key to unlocking opportunities" for young people, particularly those who through living conditions, or because of where they live, are challenged by access issues.
“My father taught me to code when I was 8 years old, and I believe every child, no matter the circumstances, should have the same opportunity,” Skonnard said. “Educating our youth is one of the most important actions we can take as a society.
"With Pluralsight One, we are supporting teachers with access to continued learning and empowering students to be lifelong learners, problem-solvers and creators, while giving them a direct path into the professional world that so desperately needs their technology skills.”
Skonnard's efforts on overcoming education challenges has also included working with Utah education and political leaders to boost the number of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM focused learners coming out of state schools.
Jake Baskin, the executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, said in a statement that the Pluralsight partnership will help build the number of qualified teachers needed to boost STEM education outcomes.
“Computer science teachers across the nation are at the forefront of a dramatic change in U.S. education, and through this partnership we’re thrilled to provide our members with even more resources to deepen their computer science knowledge and skills,” Baskin said. “Together we’ll ensure more teachers have the support they need to teach all students this foundational skill.”