Alibaba’s Jack Ma and determination

Alibaba’s Jack Ma and determination

Alibaba chief Jack Ma has replaced Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, as Asia’s richest man. 

Ma’s background is truly a rags-to-riches story. He was born into a poor family in Hangzhou, located in the southeast of China. His early life was filled with rejection: he failed his university entrance exams, and was only accepted after his third attempt. 

He faced dozens of rejections from employers, but never gave up, and eventually went on to becoming an English teacher at a local school.

Ma initially came up with the concept of Alibaba during a trip to the United States in 1995. He was entranced by the wonders of the internet, and quickly noticed the lack of a large internet company in China. After several failed ventures, he came up with the idea of an online marketplace where exporters could promote and sell their products, and where consumers and other businesses could directly approach these sellers to buy their products.

This innovative idea soon attracted investors from all around the world, from Japan to the United States. This included Goldman Sachs, who loaned US$5 million to the rising tech company. The company went on to becoming a listed company in the New York Stock Exchange, earning over US$150 billion when its shares were sold to the public. 

Jack Ma’s success perhaps seems grand at first, but boils down to one word: determination. In Ma’s own words, “Giving up is the greatest failure … once you have been through hardships, grievances and disappointments, only then will you understand what resilience is.” He never gave up on his vision to become an entrepreneur. His one success was preceded by dozens of failed attempts, but his tenacity was what helped him overcome these obstacles. 

Determination is something we should encourage more in society. In a typical classroom, those that are performing well are not challenged enough, while those that are not doing so well are asked to perform beyond their limits. As a result, the former remains in a state of complacency, never striving to go beyond their limits, and the latter are perhaps challenged too much, to the extent where they may start to give up simply because of the sheer difficulty of their classes. A good education system is one that challenges students enough to ensure that they are experiencing their fair share of failure, but also experiencing their fair share of successes as well. 

Several schools in the United States have started to experiment with this type of learning model. At Hodgkins Elementary in Westminister, Colorado, they have what the school administration calls a “standards-based” learning model. Students are sorted by ability rather than age. Students are split into learning levels based on their ability in each subject. Then they are able to progress to the next level at any time of the year when they reach all of their learning targets. This individualised learning system allows students across the spectrum to be sufficiently challenged, helping teens develop determination.

Should this type of education system be implemented in Hong Kong? Perhaps further trials are needed to confirm the positive effects that “standards-based” learning might have on students. But this is definitely a breakthrough in terms of the way we approach teaching and learning.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Face challenges to find success

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