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 “If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Jack Ma

In January 2018, Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, was standing on the stage of the World Economic Forum and announced: “If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble.” He accused the knowledge-based approach on education of “200” years ago” would “fail our kids”, who would never be able to compete with machines. Ma suggested, how children should be taught “soft skills” like independent thinking, creativity and team-work, instead.

Jack Ma’s statement gained massive amount of feedback in social media. Most of the observations praised his honesty, vision and insight and concluded that he was ‘true’, ‘right in his concerns’ and that we should ‘listen to him’ and ‘act.’ However, some of the arguments criticize him about the ignorance of knowing deeply the current school system which already, for instance in Finland, put efforts for teaching children these skills. Similarly, some teachers argue, that it’s not possible to teach thinking without knowledge.

In any case, Ma’s ‘manifesto’ is significant. When one of the world’s most influential business man is speaking about education, it reflects the importance of learning as a core factor of productive business. When production is changing also the patterns how we learn should change. 

However, Ma pose the skills like independent (critical) thinking and teamwork as “soft”, which reflects also quite outdated view of competence. From the age of computerization these skills have seen as the core of productive work, not something secondary out of the “real” productive work. In current world learning is a synonymous for productive work. Another stumbling block is the concept of knowledge in Ma’s speech which is very complex phenomena as such.

The problematic is that this outstanding statement which reach a huge global audience, is easy on the ear but not so easy to put in action. Much more deeper understanding of the principles of production-related-earning is needed in order to survive in the future working life.

Kirsi Elina Kallio