Perhaps one of the best measures of the continuing effect of the threats -- as well as the government's historic underfunding of education -- is a sobering statistic: On any given day, across the country, 20 percent of teachers don't show up to work, according to the education advocacy group Alif Ailaan, which is headed by Zaidi. The government admits 25 million children in Pakistan are out of school.
"The deck," Zaidi said, "is stacked against children."
Despite the grim statistics, half a dozen education advocates interviewed by ABC News argued Yousafzai's survival has helped many communities reach a tipping point. In Swat, Pakistan, the district where Yousafzai lived, parents are gaining confidence to defend their children's schooling.
"The parents have no other choice. They want their children to get education -- at any cost," said Ahmed Shah, an expert on education and the spokesman for the Swat peace council. "That is the fate for those of us in Pakistan."
Child Protection Committees
Last year, a rural village in eastern Pakistan realized it had a problem. Parents wanted to send their girls to school -- and the girls wanted to attend -- but not everyone felt safe. So with the help of the British NGO Plan International, the town created a "child protection committee."
"We appointed a caretaker to walk the girls to and from the town center," said Ata-Ullah Malik, the chairman of the committee.
Every day, a woman raps on the metal gates that protect the female students' homes. Every day, she walks the girls to school and returns after classes to escort them home. The community has taken charge of securing its own students -- and school attendance is up.
Education advocates argue the best way to ensure schools' safety is for local communities to protect them. For that to happen, parents need to believe in the importance of education.
"Once they see the value, they want to protect it," Fiza Shah, who runs the school-building NGO Developments in Literacy, told ABC News.
When Shah first started building schools in conservative, rural areas in the late 1990s, she encountered fathers who said they didn't want their girls to learn to write because they might send letters to boyfriends. Now, Shah believes many fathers are realizing schools produce girls who dream of much more than boyfriends.
"When we first opened schools, there was resistance. But then the parents saw the differences when girls came home," Shah said. "When they actually see what education is doing, the resistance evaporates."
Other programs, like Save the Children's Literacy Boost, are gaining the confidence of parents by reaching young students who wouldn't otherwise attend school -- and keeping them in school.
"Compared to a few years back, there's been a major change in attitude and acceptance to education," Ghulam Qadri, Save the Children's Pakistan country director, told ABC News. "We are seeing schools opening up in remote areas where there were no schools previously.
"The best criteria is community acceptance," he said in a phone interview from Islamabad. "If the community accepts their education is essential, no one can stop it."
Schools on the Frontlines
Community acceptance is one piece of the puzzle, but another crucial piece is the Pakistan military's campaigns against the Taliban, which have dramatically reduced the threats to schools.