After Alibaba, Jack Ma’s next project could be creating schools that teach children how to ‘be human’

When smart people learn how to care about others, how to care about the future, how to be human, then a company becomes warm,” Ma said.
Forbes CEO Conference 2019
  • Since retiring in September, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has revealed plans to travel the world next year, visiting schools in different countries.

  • He now wants to teach children skills for the digital age, like wisdom.

  • He defined wisdom as living “like a human”, caring about others, and caring about the future.

  • Ma said he had already built up “a bit of” a kindergarten, a primary school, and a middle school, and hinted at more ideas.

Ask Jack Ma what he’s been working on since retiring, and he will tell you about his plans to visit schools and teachers around the world next year.

The retired founder of Chinese giant Alibaba revealed during a dialogue session during the Forbes CEO Conference in Singapore on Tuesday (Oct 15) that he had already built up “a bit of a kindergarten”, “a bit of a primary school”, and a middle school as part of his retirement plans to return to teaching.

He added that he had been working with teachers in rural areas for the past five years, and had ideas he wanted to develop.

Read also:  Alibaba cofounder Jack Ma — the richest person in China — is retiring with a net worth of $38 billion. Here’s his incredible rags-to-riches story.

To laughter from the audience, Ma – who failed his primary school, middle school and university entrance exams – joked that he would never be accepted into Alibaba today amid competition from Stanford and Harvard graduates.

Turning serious, he expressed concerned that the younger generation would be ill-equipped to survive the the digital era if education systems did not change within the next 20 to 30 years.

Describing smart people as those who used their brains, Ma said he was “so proud” of Alibaba’s intelligent employees, but thought it infinitely preferable to be a wise person who used their heart.

Read also: Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma says it’s a ‘blessing’ for his staff to work gruelling 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week

Most smart people want to win. We want to make smart people learn how to live like a human, how to care about others. When smart people learn how to care about others, how to care about the future, how to be human, then a company becomes warm, (things go) smooth, and (it has) soft power. Otherwise, you have a group of gangsters,” he said.

“This is why I believe we need more wise people and leaders,” Ma continued. “A smart machine will be always smarter than you are; a machine can never be wiser.”

“Machines don’t have hearts, machines only have chips. So, this is what I think: human beings should always learn to be wise.”

The former English teacher suggested the education system be changed to teach children how to “be a human” in the AI era.

He identified skills like music, dancing, painting and sports as “very important”, as these artistic pursuits engaged people’s hearts.

Read also: A Silicon Valley-inspired, S$30,000 per year preschool is opening in Funan mall – and it’s promising to teach toddlers 21st century skills like coding and ‘grit’

Other key skills he said he considered essential were independent thinking, innovation, and creativity.

“When young people learn (about success) too much, they think they can easily succeed,” Ma said. “Learn the mistakes, not avoid them. When you meet the mistake, you know how to face it, how to solve it, how to challenge it. This is called wisdom. This is what we should teach our kids.”

“I want to do more things about that,” he said, to applause from the audience. “It is important. There are a lot of problems, but (there are) solutions. We have to do it.”

The billionaire added that his focus was on young people.

“Trust the young people. I trust young people more than I trust senior people, successful people – because there’s no expert of the future, there are only experts of yesterday,” he said.

“Working with most of the successful people – they only talk about yesterday. We are entering into a century, into a world, that is so new. Working with young people, you’re talking about the future.”

Read also: 27 of the most brilliant quotes from Jack Ma, the cofounder of Alibaba and one of the richest people in the world