18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
A Young Voice with a Big Heart
By Kay del Rosario

‘Advocacy-driven’ is a good way to describe Goh Huishan.

The 34-year-old primary school teacher co-founded the Save That Pen (STP) initiative in her final year of university in 2010 with two other friends. The project has since become a nationwide movement to refurbish old pens and donate them to students in need, while engaging youths on the idea of social responsibility and sustainability.

Even then, Huishan felt a deep conviction about education.

“Save That Pen wasn't just a recycling programme to save the world, it was a programme where recycling could be part of the whole environment of education for every child.

“I have a strong belief in education and that has led me to choose my vocation,” she said.

Huishan has been teaching for nine years now, but early on in her career, she naturally gravitated towards union work and she has become an advocate for young teachers like herself.

She was recognised at the recent May Day Awards 2021 with the Partner of Labour Movement award for her dedication and commitment to making sure their voices are heard.


The Write Path  

Save That Pen was what kickstarted Huishan’s journey with youth activism and union leadership in 2011.

She and the co-founders were looking to bring the project to the national consciousness, while Young NTUC was looking to support causes initiated by young people. They have worked together since then.

This affiliation exposed Huishan to union work and prompted her to join the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU) once she entered the teaching force. It all came together since then.

“Right now, it has come to this point in which I'm serving on all three fronts - we're still doing Save That Pen, I'm also serving on the central council of STU, and also holding an appointment at Young NTUC as public sector co-chairperson.

“There was this motivation, or purpose, because I think I can be representative for the voices of my age group,” she said.

Huishan is currently leading the Young STU Taskforce on finding out the challenges of young educators, through a series of engagements.


Making the Oldest Profession Work for Young Teachers

Teaching has been around for thousands of years. But the future of education lies in the hands of young teachers today.

Huishan knows this all too well and strives to play her part in making sure their voices are heard.

“At the taskforce, we wanted to understand the needs and aspirations of young teachers because they are very different … We come into a different world, at a different time, and the older teachers have different concerns from the young ones,” she said.

They have surveyed more than 300 teachers and engaged around 50 of them to put together a report on the issues they face. It is a huge task, but something Huishan is determined to undertake.

“I think a big part of it is the purpose. Why am I in it to begin with? What drives me is the purpose of doing right for workers – in this case, the teachers – making sure that teachers have a place on the table,” Huishan said.


What Lies Ahead

Many of her peers have come to see Huishan as an inspirational young leader. But when asked if she plans to continue her union work, she cannot say for sure.

Huishan shared: “The reason why I'm involved with the union is because of my very strong identity as an educator. That will remain. But in the future, it may or may not manifest through the platform of the unions.

“I have had the privilege to be in this position to learn. And I think that if I continue to be in this position, someone else might not necessarily get that. I am perfectly fine to flow on if someone else gets the opportunity and the exposure that I've had in the last few years.”

Having said that, her desire for influence and desire for change will always be there.

Huishan’s only advice to those who want to take on a similar path: “Contribute! Contribute to making the system a better one. And know that there are platforms like the Singapore Teachers' Union that will safeguard your voice.”

This article on Goh Huishan - A Young Voice with a Big Heart was originally published on NTUC's Labour Beat.