A year ago Jack Ma’s Foundation announced its “Jack Ma Rural Headmasters” plan, which aims to identify and support extraordinary headmasters in rural areas of China. Unlike its previous rural teachers program, where the teachers were nominated by the foundation itself, the rural headmasters are instead recommended by front-line educational NGOs in China. Each NGO recommended one or two headmasters, after which the Foundation verified the identities of the candidates and a group of experts picked out the final 20 delegates out of 5000 applicants.
The selected 20 headmasters were invited to attend the first forum on rural headmasters, which was held in Hangzhou on July 12 and 13. They were rewarded with 500,000 yuan, out of which 100,000 yuan was for personal living improvement; 100,000 for systematic leadership improvement projects and the remaining 300,000 yuan for operating innovative educational practices in their schools.
Many Chinese and international academics and experts on education joined the forum, including UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. The attendees discussed research findings on education in rural areas, including the challenges faced by rural schools and the possible solutions. Jack Ma said during the opening that “headmasters are the key – they can influence over 3.7 million rural teachers and shape the future of China”. The forum, as Jack Ma noted, was more of an opportunity for him to thank the rural headmasters than an awards ceremony.
Apart from the awards ceremony, the forum also had a display section for over 20 front-line educational NGOs to present their work and share their experiences; there were also sub-forums, in which several themed discussions were each led by one headmaster and one international educational expert, so that they could exchange opinions and debate with the audience.