At 55, Alibaba's outgoing CEO Ma plans to devote life to education

Yang Meiping
Machines have chips, but human beings have love, which is the responsibility of education, says Ma.
Yang Meiping
At 55, Alibaba's outgoing CEO Ma plans to devote life to education

Alibaba founder Jack Ma, 55, says he will devote the rest of his life to education after stepping down as CEO of one of the world's leading e-commerce companies.

"Many people have asked me about what I will do after stepping down from the post of CEO of Alibaba," he told a conference at the East China Normal University on Wednesday.

"I said education will probably be the area where I will put most of my focus. I think education will be the most important work in the rest of my lifetime."

He was speaking at the 14th International Confederation of Principals’ Convention, where more than 1,500 principals and educators from home and abroad gathered to exchange views on the future of education.

“Education is the most important guarantee to ensure the confidence of human beings toward the future,” Ma said. 

“There are about 10 million newborns every year and investment in their minds is investment in the future. Neglecting education means neglecting future.”

He attributed his success in the business world partly to his former career as a teacher.

“I used to be a teacher and know how to respect my students, bring out the best in them and make them do better than their own expectation,” he said.

He said there are a lot problems in the world now, but no matter how big the challenges are and how complicated the situation is, as long there is education, there is hope. 

He also said education must change as the world is entering the digital era from the Industrial Age. He said the Industrial Age was driven by knowledge while the digital age by wisdom.

“Artificial intelligence, big data and robots will pose great challenges to traditional education models, content and approaches,” he said.

“Machines will be cleverer and will become more capable in memorization and calculation than our children. If we still teach them to remember and calculate as previously, I think they will be unable to find jobs in the future.”

“In the digital era, or intelligent era, our focus should not be on investment on technology and equipment, but on growth and experience of human beings."

He used learning foreign language as an example.

“Some people said we don’t have to learn foreign languages anymore because we now have a lot of translation apps,” he said. “But I think learning a foreign language is interesting. It’s a kind of respect to another culture. The experience of exploring another world could never be offered by translation machines.”

He believes future teachers will win respect for guiding students in values.

“Artificial intelligence can replace teachers for assessing homework and the Internet can help answer questions. If we can implant chips in human brains, we may don’t have to teach knowledge,” he said. “But teachers’ care for students and their guidance on values will never be replaced by machines.”

He concluded that future-oriented education should cultivate love quotient besides intelligence quotient and emotion quotient.

“Machines have chips, but human beings have love, which is the responsibility of education,” he said.

He also called for more investment on basic education and education in rural areas.

“When education is of high quality only in Beijing and Shanghai, that doesn’t mean our country is at a high level in terms of education,” he said. “Only when education in villages is good, can China have really good education.”

The International Confederation of Principals was established in 1990 to promote education development in the world and its 200,000 members are all principals and education administrators from all over the world.

This is the first time the organization’s convention has been held in China. China’s vice minister of education Weng Tiehui and vice mayor of Shanghai Chen Qun both attended the opening ceremony.

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