Alibaba chief sets up private school

Alibaba chief sets up private school
After spearheading a revolution in e-commerce, the founder of Alibaba Group, billionaire Jack Ma, is setting his sights on China’s education system by establishing a private bilingual school.
PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI - Nonprofit institution is expected to have 3,000 students at full enrollment.

After spearheading a revolution in e-commerce, the founder of Alibaba Group, billionaire Jack Ma, is setting his sights on China's education system by establishing a private bilingual school.

He and other partners of Alibaba co-founded the Yungu School, or Cloud Valley, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where the e-commerce empire is headquartered.

The school will span 15 years of education, offering classes from kindergarten through high school.

Yungu aims to give its students an opportunity to make the best of themselves, according to a written reply from the company.

Compassion, independence, social responsibility and lifelong learning are among the key traits that the school believes are crucial for students to become global citizens.

The move comes amid mounting scrutiny of China's burgeoning private education market, which was worth 78 billion yuan (S$16.04 billion) in 2015 and is expected to grow by up to 15 per cent in the next few years, according to estimates from Industrial Securities.

In a revised law in November, China banned profit-centred private schools from the nine-year compulsory education system, which covers the years from primary school to junior high school, because it is a public service to be provided by the government.

Alibaba said its school is registered as a nonprofit organisation and will comply with the law.

It declined to disclose tuition fees.

At full capacity, Yungu is expected to have 3,000 students.

For the upcoming September semester, it plans to enroll 60 students in first grade, and another 48 in seventh grade.

After submitting online applications, candidates will be assessed based on their materials and face-to-face interviews with the student and parents.

Prospective candidates do not need to hold a Hangzhou hukou, or household registration.

To meet the needs of bilingual teaching, up to 40 per cent of the faculty are hired from a global pool, each having more than five years of teaching experience internationally.

The rest are mostly award-winning teachers with experience in domestic educational institutions.

Yungu said it will have a favourable ratio of teacher to students-one teacher for every five students-in a bid to address common problems of public schools such as cramped classrooms.

To explore the full potential of students beyond their schoolwork, it also includes personalized modules and social services in the curriculum and pays special attention to utilizing technology in teaching.

China has 162,700 private schools nationwide, which recruit more than 45.7 million students, according to Ministry of Education statistics from last year.

Ma spent seven years teaching English before starting his own business.

In 2015, he created an award to help rural teachers, and he established a scholarship programme in Australia in January to sponsor disadvantaged students with a demonstrated commitment to cross-cultural understanding and social justice.

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