Adult education centre named after Devan Nair

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mdm Ho Ching and guests unveiling a mural dedicated to Devan Nair during the official opening of the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability.

More than half a century later, the story of the labour movement and one of its most famous sons has come full circle.

In 1961, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was founded in Fort Canning Hill, on the premises of the Adult Education Board, by leader Devan Nair, among others.

Yesterday, 53 years later, the NTUC founded an adult education centre and named it after its first secretary-general.

The official opening of the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability was an important milestone for the unions, said labour chief Lim Swee Say.

For the family of the late teacher-turned-unionist-turned-politician, the significance was more personal.

"The NTUC was founded in an adult education centre; and today, NTUC has in turn founded a model, state-of-the-art adult education centre," said Mr Janadas Devan, the elder son of the former president of Singapore, in a statement.

"In more ways than one, this is a homecoming," he added.

The centre in Jurong East, which was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, champions continuous learning.

It is one of two such campuses. The other will open in Paya Lebar later this year.

The Government is footing the total bill of $300 million for both.

"These two institutes reflect our commitment to investing in our workers, help you improve your skills and stay employable," said PM Lee in his May Day Rally speech.

He urged workers to take full advantage of its facilities and services such as classrooms, training providers and career counsellors.

The pursuit of new skills and knowledge is integral for workers to stay employable and Singapore to stay competitive, he said.

It is, he added, like the frequent updating of smartphone apps.

"When we're a worker, we better have the latest firmware in our brains also," he said, to laughter.

Developing better workers is also crucial to staying one step ahead of "relentless" competition, he added.

It was fitting, he believed, that the progressive centre to help Singapore workers stay ahead is named after one of the labour movement's pioneers.

"(Devan Nair) was pivotal in forging a united and forward- looking labour movement," said Mr Lee.

"This institute is a good way to honour his life as a teacher. He became a unionist, and as a unionist, his passion as a teacher continued."

Trade unions were part of Mr Nair's lifeblood, even though he was a teacher by training.

Imprisoned in 1951 for being a member of the Anti-British League, he was barred from rejoining the teaching service when he was released two years later.

As a result, he was forced to make a living working part-time. He gave private tuition for about $80 a month while being a full-time, albeit unpaid, activist in several unions, said Mr Janadas, the chief of government communications.

"When my father was again imprisoned from 1956 to 1959, those same trade unions collected money to support my mother and her two children through those difficult years.

"My brother Janamitra and I were literally raised as toddlers by trade unionists."

He added: "You will understand now why I'm pleased that NTUC has named its premier adult education centre - e2i - after my father."

This article was published on May 2 in The Straits Times.

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