The principal with firm principles for her girls

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Canberra Girls Grammar principal Anna Owen with, from left, school vice captain Nithya Mathew, school captain Ailin He and boarding house captain Nancy Xia. Photo: Holly Treadaway

NEW principal Anna Owen has implemented a “no phones” policy during school hours for girls in years 7-10 at Canberra Girls Grammar putting the school at odds with the ACT Education Minister.

Minister Yvette Berry won’t be banning phones in public schools.

“Banning phones in schools may not be the best way to support the development of children and young people,” she says. “It’s important that children and young people are taught how to live alongside devices appropriately because this is a big part of our life now.”

But Ms Owen, the former deputy principal at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, says that overwhelmingly the research tells her that mobile phones are a big distraction for young people in school.

“Young people have many pressures and girls have special challenges. In a girls’ school we can teach them how to respond to these challenges and how to face them, and that can be very empowering. They can practice and build confidence,” she says.

One example of the many challenges facing young people is the online environment, says Anna.

Her approach is to firstly educate the students about the safe use of personal information and how to manage it, with the understanding that whatever is posted is forever online.

Anna says she and her staff are passionate about the advancement of girls and young women in their care.

Canberra Girls Grammar principal Anna Owen. Photo: Holly Treadaway

“The advancement of women is important to the welfare of society,” she says, emphasising the importance of young women having the pathways to be the ones in society to make the decisions, not to have them made about them.

Although Anna admits the complexity of the issue, she believes it is a privilege to be educating girls at this unique time in history.

“We [CGGS] have always been a voice and advocate for young women and we will remain to do so into the 21st century. We have a commitment to creating the next iteration of young women. It’s an exciting time.”

With a history spanning almost 100 years, Anna says the school is a unique proposition in the community, offering a broad liberal education to its 1400 students from early learning to year 12. With the exception of the younger years, CGGS is a single-sex Anglican school. Anna says that there are many benefits to providing a single-sex environment for girls’ education.

“We can tailor every moment to the special needs of girls. They will face biases in the world as they leave the school environment. But a girls’ school allows girls to just be girls and enjoy the joy, humour and play of childhood.”

Anna says she is a strong believer in girls’ education and actively working to create a world where anything is possible for young women.

Her vision for the girls under her care is for them to have the confidence, skills and education to have pathways into positions of power in society.

“Our intent is to develop young women who are able to articulate what it is to be well-educated, who understand the great responsibility of receiving a great education and who insist on living ethically and purposefully,” she says.

“A great deal of progress has been made with regard to gender equity in Australia, but the work is not finished.

“I only need to look across to Parliament House here in our nation’s capital where slightly more than 30 per cent of our elected representatives are women, to see how much work still needs to be done, placing more women in positions of power.”

Growing up in western Queensland, Anna understands first-hand what it is like to be a CGGS student, having been educated in an Anglican girls’ boarding school.

She began her career as a science teacher and has experienced a wide range of educational environments and roles. Moving her family from Queensland has been a positive one, she says, with her daughter starting in year 10 at the school as well.

She says she started her role at CGGS by looking back at the history, reading about past principals and school magazines.

“It is a fine school… CGGS has influenced the educational landscape locally and nationally,” she says.

In regard to any changes Anna intends to make, she outlines her plans as “gentle and careful corrections”, citing that she would like to continue to add to the special programs offered to all students that help develop traits such as team work, leadership, confidence, curiosity, problem solving and a passion for lifelong learning.

“These skills will help the girls grow in all areas and allow them to make informed decisions in the future,” she says.

The extracurricular activities on offer at CGGS Anna says are special, such as the music academy program, with a component offered to the wider community that has proved popular within and outside the school.

Anna has been enjoying early morning jogs around Lake Burley Griffin and admits to being an enthusiastic sportswoman, with her personal passion for sport influencing aspects of her leadership style. She says that sports are designed to test skills and improve self management, which is important for students.

“Team sports offer girls many benefits such as self discipline, mental and physical precision and that can feed into their sense of self belonging. And young people need that.” she says.



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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

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