Vivek Nair is Principal at School of the Nations, Macau. He speaks fluent English and Hindi. He also understands Persian and can sing in Italian.
Born 2 May 1971, in Gwalior, in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India, Nair’s had a passion for education from an early age. His philosophy that education provides children with the means to be pro-active inspired him to move to Macau in 2001.
Nair’s father is a Malaysian-Indian; his mother an Iranian refugee; and he has two younger sisters. His parents met in Gwalior when his father, following a dream, left everything behind in Malaysia and moved to India.
When Nair was three years old, his family moved to the U.S. and settled in Amherst, Massachusetts, while his father was working on his Ph.D. Afterwards, the family travelled continuously for some time: his father worked for the United Nations, and they were stationed in various cities throughout Asia. They travelled so frequently that Nair once truly did not know where they were in the world. “Was I in Japan? I didn’t know!” he recalls. His parents realised it was time to settle down, and so they returned to India.
There, Nair was enrolled in boarding school. “One of the reasons I am passionate about education is because I went to boarding school for three years. I went to this very elite school that was originally for kings and princes, and it was a horrible experience,” he recalls.
Nair is left-handed and remembers his teachers tying his left hand to the chair so he would be forced to write with his right hand. He kept untying himself until one day, one of his teachers broke two of his left fingers so he wouldn’t be able to use them. Now, with a burst of laughter, he exclaims victoriously, “Today, I’m still left-handed!” When his father, who was principal at another school, found out, he withdrew his son, to Nair’s relief. “I vividly remember saying that there must be a better way to learn, not through fear, and I think that was one of the things that stayed with me.”
Nair then enrolled in his father’s school in New Era High School in Panchgani, through the end of high school. Being the son of the principal came with its own difficulties: “Everyone is scared of you a little bit. Until I was 15, I didn’t have real friends and didn’t know how to relate with people that well. Teachers were also either very strict with me or very lenient.”
Nair left India in 1990 to get a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in Massachusetts, but his true passion was music, which he concurrently pursued at Berklee College of Music. Music is ever-present in his life and often a means of expression. “Sometimes I sing in the hallways [of the School of the Nations], and people know not only that I’m coming but that I’m in a good mood,” he laughs. He jokes that when he sings in the shower, his wife and son cover their ears, but his students attest that he is an amazing singer.
Upon finishing his studies, Nair returned to his father’s school. At the age of 21, he was unsure as to what he wanted to pursue, but the moment he stepped into the classroom as an instructor with the capacity of bringing about positive change, it was like magic. “It was love at first sight. This was what I was meant to do for the rest of my life,” he asserts.
He was inspired to return to the U.S. to further his studies, earning a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as well as a master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Pune, India.
Returning to India, Nair worked with his father before landing a job in Pune developing educational software, which combined his background in Computer Science and Education. While this sounded like the best of both worlds, Nair was not passionate about it and wanted to go back to teaching in the classroom.
Through a friend in Macau, he heard about a position at the School of the Nations (SON). “Macau? I thought … that is an island off of Hong Kong, right? I Googled it, and the first thing that appeared was regarding the Triads! I didn’t want to come. What if I got shot in the streets?!” he jokes, acknowledging his naivety.
When his father, also known as his “mentor in life”, deemed the position a wonderful opportunity, Nair moved forward and pursued the job.
When he moved to Macau in 2001, the city was “a very small and calm place where only a few people understood English. School was a challenge but allowed me a great deal of creativity,” Nair explains.
As the city grew and more schools opened up, SON’s enrollment dropped, so Nair rolled up his sleeves and got to work. “I encouraged the kids to get involved in drama so they could use the language that they were learning in class.”
The drama productions were a success, and enrollment rebounded as more students became involved, even arriving for 7am rehearsals before classes began. Productions put on at the Macau Culture Centre included Oliver! and The Sound of Music. Nair often recorded himself playing piano and singing the soundtracks to help with rehearsals and the performances.
During this same time, Nair was a Primary 6 home teacher and therefore taught all subjects. He thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and range of topics he engaged in with the students, all except one: Physical Education. “Instead of making them run, I went to the park in NAPE, sat the students down and told them stories,” he laughs.
In 2004, Nair was offered the position of head of the primary school. Then, in 2009, SON’s new campus opened in Taipa. “The new school had space for what we had envisioned for a very long time. We offer now, for example, a huge arts programme, which is very close to my heart. The culture in Asia is very science and math-oriented. Sometimes we forget the value of the humanities and the arts, and it’s always been my focus to make sure that we have strong programmes in those areas as well.”
2009 was also the year Nair became SON’s principal. At first, he insisted on continuing to teach classes but soon realised he “was no longer a teacher of students but also a teacher of teachers.” As a principal, he doesn´t see himself in a hierarchical position but rather as part of a team with his own set of responsibilities – “we are all the same, we just have a different set of responsibilities.” Nair advises his staff that a teacher “who has a humble posture to learn will be successful, but a teacher who thinks that he is a fount of all knowledge is the beginning of the end.”
Following his own advice, Nair is currently getting a master’s degree in Education Leadership through an Australia-based online course. He will also attend a summer course in Florida on International School Leadership with principals from around the world.
Nair is also a Bahá’í. In the Baha’i faith there are two professions that are elevated beyond every other: medicine and education, as they both entail service to others as a primary focus; and in 2016, Nair flew to Chile to work with an international music choir for the opening of the Bahá’í House of Worship of South America.
For Nair, “Education is one of the central keys to making a difference in the world, because where there is lack of education, societies are hurting the most.” May Macau continue to benefit from and grow under his guidance, and may his passion for education be as contagious as his ready smile and enthusiastic laugh.
Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Macau