Jane Mann, Managing Director, Cambridge Partnership for Education, Cambridge University Press & Assessment

Jane Mann has worked in education publishing and reform for more than 20 years. As Managing Director of Cambridge Partnership for Education, Jane leads a team supporting governments and organisations in over 25 countries with programmes of transformation across their education system, from needs analysis to publishing to assessment to teacher professional development. To achieve ambitious goals, Jane brings together experts from across Cambridge University and its global networks.

In addition to her leadership role, Jane is a member of the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement at Cambridge University and a member of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) Executive Council.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with K12 Digest, Jane shared her professional background, current roles and responsibilities, how the K12 education landscape has transformed over the last five years and its future, insights on the importance of female leadership in the field of education, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Jane, could you please briefly introduce yourself and tell us about your journey, background, and role at Cambridge University Press & Assessment?

I’m Jane Mann, Managing Director of Cambridge Partnership for Education at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, part of Cambridge University. I have worked in education for more than 20 years, and am an experienced publisher, author, editor and trainer.

In my role at Cambridge, I lead a dedicated team working with ministries of education, government agencies and international development organisations around the world to improve the quality of education systems. Our mission is to transform societies through education. We apply the knowledge, research and networks of Cambridge University and our 80 global offices to help our partners tackle some of their biggest challenges.

Cambridge Partnership for Education was formed just over three years ago to bring together Cambridge University’s experts in education reform from across different teams into a single unit. With 150 years of expertise in education, we now work with governments in more than 25 countries and reach more than 30 million teachers and learners with our resources and curricula.

How has the K12 education landscape transformed over the last five years and where is it heading now?

The K12 education landscape has changed radically over the last five years. It may now seem almost too cliched to say, but the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world forever. It was the catalyst for a global education crisis and we’re seeing the fallout from that across the globe now, not only educationally, but in children’s mental health, too.  While we were already behind on achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, quality education for all by 2030, the pandemic took a significant toll on learning and children’s wellbeing around the world.

We are also experiencing a very concerning increase in the number of children in emergency and crisis situations, often as a result of conflict or climate-related natural disasters.  Figures released in June of this year by Education Cannot Wait put the number of children whose education has been disrupted by conflict, climate change and other disasters at 224 million. Only 11% of these children are in school and reaching minimum standards in their reading or maths.

Now, as called for by UNESCO at the United Nations General Assembly last year, we must ‘reboot’ our education systems to ensure they are fit for purpose, fit for the future, and fit for every child – including the most vulnerable.

No one can achieve this alone, and no one can achieve this all at once. Deep partnerships must play an essential role in transforming education systems, so they are more reliable and sustainable, preparing the next generation for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Working in close and long-term partnership is one of the most satisfying things about my role. It gives you the space and the trust to face challenges together, and address them in the most sustainable way, and to never stop learning from each other. For example, we have been working closely for many years with the Ministry of Education in Oman on an ambitious programme of transformation for their maths and science education for every child in a government school. Together, we created new curricula that better prepare children for the world of work and the uncertain future ahead. By working in close partnership, the result is both highly tailored for the Omani context and draws from international best practice.

We’ve also recently established a fellowship to support senior government leaders to navigate one of the key components of this education transformation: technology. The HP Cambridge Partnership for Education EdTech Fellowship sees top innovators from different nations come together to explore research, policy and leadership, building the skills and networks to implement meaningful change. The connections these Fellows are forming are profound and will lead to a remarkable community of practice, who can support and learn from each other.

What are the challenges in the current field of education, and how and what can we do to improve?

Countries across the world are facing challenges of education equity, access, quality, and relevance.

One of the most important things to consider in tackling these challenges is that one size does not fit all. Context is king. Every education system is unique, and our solutions should recognize this. We can’t just lift an education solution that works for one country or context and drop it into another without understanding the differences between the two.

Linked to this, it is important that we seek to understand the whole education system and consider the relationships between its different parts. Otherwise, changes can end up having unintended consequences or reduced impact. We must seek to make education systems more coherent: with the various elements – from teacher training to assessment – aligned with one another and with the system’s overall purpose.

At Cambridge, our research-based diagnostic framework helps ministries of education, and education leaders to explore each part of an education system and their interactions with one another, so they can design and deliver policy that successfully improves education. Deeply understanding local context is a big part of this, but it is also informed by research from around the world.

Making better use of evidence is a vital part of tackling the education crisis. There is a growing wealth of educational research, but not enough of this is used by governments and organisations responding to urgent challenges. Research can surprise us and change our approaches and choices. For example, researchers at Cambridge University recently found that putting disadvantaged children first creates education systems that work for everyone. As a result, funding was shifted in Ghana for the benefit of 450,000 of their most vulnerable children.

Finally, it is also important we gather and analyse data before, during and after programmes of education transformation to ensure we are having the intended impact and inform further action. At Cambridge, our Partnership for Education Impact Framework tracks impact across a wide variety of areas so we can see the results of our work, better demonstrate them, and strengthen our support to governments and organisations to reach their goals to improve learning for all children.

As we increasingly work to support Education in Emergencies at Cambridge, we’re finding these same principles for effective education transformation apply in emergency circumstances. For example, we’ve been working with the Ministry of Education & Science in Ukraine to pilot a programme to support their displaced learners in the short term, which also supports their long-term vision for New Ukrainian Schools and a thriving future for the nation beyond the war.

Can you speak about the importance of female leadership in the field of education, and how your own experience as a woman in this field has influenced your leadership style?

Diversity is a key ingredient for great leadership. Leadership needs to reflect the communities it is leading and serving, and that includes gender.

In the field of education, some of the biggest challenges include gender. Millions of girls are still out of school around the world, and in almost half of countries there is a long way to go to properly address the learning gap between boys and girls.

I lead the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)’s Women’s Network and, over the past decade, I have seen an acceleration in the equality of leadership opportunities for all genders across the sector. Of course, there are still big challenges that need addressing – including parental leave, menopause, the split caring role 21st Century women are increasingly taking on (whereby we are caring for both children and parents), and the intersectionality of all these issues – and I feel fortunate to work for an organisation committed to tackling them.

How can generations work together to transform education for the better?

Recently I have seen a seismic shift from tokenistic intergenerational collaboration to young people truly driving forward change at the highest levels. I have found this a great source of hope and positivity when thinking about the global challenges ahead for us all.

Last year, at the Transforming Education Summit at the UN General Assembly, I met young people from across the world who represented the global movement of youth as central agents of change, as manifested in the Youth Declaration. Though we must always work to ensure inclusion as well as diversity in every forum, it was the first time I had seen the power of intergenerational dialogue to challenge the education crisis in action.

It was this experience that prompted us at Cambridge to became one of the founding members of the Transforming Education Co-Action Summit hosted by Salzburg Global Seminar, which focuses on the role of intergenerational leadership and collaboration in transforming education systems. At our first summit, we discussed how decision-makers must be representative of society – and how, in some parts of the world, society is increasingly made up of youth, not to mention that young people everywhere are proportionately one of the largest groups affected by education.

At this year’s UN General Assembly, we supported the Summit’s ‘Uniting Generations: Sharing Power to Transform Education’ workshop, presenting our collective guide on rethinking the way we share power across generations to support education transformation that is more resilient and adaptable.

A more inclusive process will drive greater relevancy in education. We know from recent research, like Big Change’s Big Education Conversation, that the younger generation wants relevant education. They want to see what they are learning inside, and outside school applies to the challenges and opportunities all around them. Through intergenerational leadership, we can develop systems which better support teachers to be teaching relevant skills and knowledge, in a relevant way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who inspired you?

I have been lucky enough in my career to meet and work with many inspiring and amazing people, dedicating their lives to improving education, often despite a number of challenges.  Each time leaves me with deeper understanding and respect. Very often these people are at the chalk-face, but I have met deeply inspiring Ministers, too. Early on in my career, I was honored to work with one such Minister operating in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. Their determination that the children in these circumstances didn’t only deserve equality of education – but that they deserved the very best in education – changed my approach to work forever. They taught me the importance of consistent focus, of not being distracted from the larger goal by smaller frustrations on the way. This ‘relentless pragmatism’ is one of the biggest lessons I have learned in my career, and something I work to cultivate continuously.

What’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader?

Women are, of course, fantastically different and diverse. Nonetheless, a trait I’ve often come across in female leaders is the ability to communicate authentically. Hand in hand with this is a strong sense of self-awareness. This is of course not unique to female leaders, but it is strikingly common among this group.

Last week, Dame Melinda Simmons spoke at Cambridge about her time as Ambassador of the U.K. to Ukraine, spanning not only Covid, but the outbreak and continuing horror of the war. Her most important piece of advice was to “Be yourself.”  This is such a short statement, but Dame Melinda was saying something profound about aligning your actions with your values, building trust among your team, and being resolutely self-aware. The ability to do that even in such an extreme context is remarkable leadership indeed.

What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?

I don’t believe I’ve found the secret! However, I have found that when I’m physically present at home, I need to make sure I’m also mentally present. I have three teenage boys, and they are growing up fast, so when I’m at the dinner table, I try to make sure I’m really listening to what my family have to say, and not running through tomorrow’s work in the back of my mind.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In five years’ time, we’ll have just two years left to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030, including education for all. Every step in the journey and beyond is enormously important. As a leader in the education transformation sector, building resilient teams that can help governments and organisations for the long haul is at the heart of what I do.

I’m excited about what’s ahead – I think we could see transformational results from current investments in intergenerational leadership, cross-border collaboration, locally-driven innovation and creative thinking.

What advice would you like to give young women out there who are interested in pursuing careers in tech or education in general?

  1. The people you can learn from are not always older than you. I recently made the decision never to engage in a traditional mentor-mentee relationship again, from now on I will always co-mentor as we have so much to learn from each other.
  2. You don’t need to ask for permission – trust yourself to drive powerful change. We need you!
  3. Never stop asking questions.

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