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 the Forbes CEO Conference in Singapore on Tuesday 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.
The former English teacher added that he had been working with teachers in rural areas for the past five years and that he had ideas he wanted to develop.
To laughter from the audience, Ma — who failed his primary school, middle school, and university entrance exams — joked that he would never be hired by Alibaba today amid competition from Stanford and Harvard graduates.
More seriously, he expressed concern that the younger generation would be ill-equipped to survive the digital era if education systems did not change within the next 20 to 30 years.
Describing smart people as those who use their brains, Ma said he was “so proud” of Alibaba’s intelligent employees, but said he thought it is infinitely preferable to be a wise person who uses their heart.
“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] smoothly, 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 billionaire also suggested the education system be changed so that children are taught how to “be a human” in an era of artificial intelligence.
He identified skills like music, dancing, painting, and sports as “very important”, as these are the kinds of artistic pursuits that engage people’s hearts.
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 from the mistakes, don’t avoid them. When you make the mistake, 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.”
“It is important,” he said, to applause from the audience. “There are a lot of problems, but [there are] always solutions. We have to do it.”
The Alibaba founder added that his focus was mainly on young people. “Trust the young people. I trust young people more than I trust senior people, successful people — because there is 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. When you’re working with young people, you’re talking about the future.”
This article was originally published on Business Insider Singapore.
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