Photo: Reuters, Steven Shi
Photo: Reuters, Steven Shi

Not happy with the state of Chinese education? Think you can do a better job? Why not put your money where your mouth is and open your own school. Better still, make yourself chairman of the school board.

Jack Ma has done just that.

The Alibaba billionaire is helping to bankroll the 1.1 billion yuan (US$160 million) Yun Gu School, which is now opened for application and aims to provide education from kindergarten through to high school for highly talented local and expatriate children.

The school is in the industrial park that houses Alibaba’s cloud center for analyzing data collected from Ma’s enterprises, such as Taobao and Ant Financial Services Group — Shuangqiao village in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province. The school is expected to have technological support in areas such as big data and artificial intelligence, and to focus on science and technology, as well as programming.

“Yun Gu School hopes that through some hard work it can attempt to reform Chinese education,” said Ma, whose role a head of the school board suggests he plans a hands on role in the endeavor.

The school says it will introduce an undergraduate-style system of tutorials and colleges. Students will have more freedom to choose courses and teachers based on their interests and specialties, instead of following a compulsory schedule of fixed classes.

Screenshot of Yun Gu School’s home page.

Children born between September 2010 and August 2011 can apply for Yun Gu’s primary school this year. The school plans to enrol 60 pupils for three classes. Top-flight graduates from other primary schools are encouraged to compete for the 48 places in its middle school.

School fees haven’t been published yet, according to the information released on the school’s official WeChat account.

It’s not Ma’s first venture into education:

  • January 2015 — Alibaba founded Hupan University in Hangzhou for entrepreneurs who’ve spent more than three years in start-ups
  • September 2015 — Jack Ma Foundation establishes the Jack Ma Rural Teacher Award, an annual prize of 100,000 yuan for each of the 100 teachers working in rural schools who are chosen
  • February 2017 — Jack Ma Foundation donated US$20 million to Newcastle University in Australia for scholarships

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