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Dr. Aung Gyi [1]

Memories of Sayagyi Dr. Aung Gyi – Part One

I matriculated in 1949 and entered the University of Rangoon and stayed in Ava Hall and took the Intermediate of Science (ISc)courses. The courses were: English, Burmese, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics (Pure and Applied Maths). We needed to take these courses for two years in order to go to the engineering studies. I remember having a great time in the first year as we did not have to take the examination at the end of the first year for some unknown reason. But we had to take the examination at the end of the second year for all the subject matters that were taught to us for the whole two years. It was a tough examination at the end of the second year as we had to study a lot. We had physics and chemistry examination papers, two mathematics papers, English and Burmese papers, physics lab practical exam and chemistry lab practical exam within a period of 15 to 20 days in the hot month of March. Only about 60% of the students passed through the first time. The passing grade for each subject was 40%. Fortunately the University authorities in those days were understanding and kind enough to give the failed students what they called compartmental examination again in May/June for the failed subjects. Given a second chance like that, a lot of students passed the examination this time around. The Faculty of Engineering admitted the students, including the students who passed the ISc exam. under the compartmental system, with a passing grade of at least 40% for each of ISc subjects and the average passing grade for all the subjects combined of 50%.

I was quite fortunate to have good teachers in my ISc days. I remember that Saya U Than Tin gave good lectures in physics. Saya U Thein Nyunt was good as well in teaching us chemistry. Needless to say the experiments that I had to do in physics and chemistry labs were interesting as they were all new to me.The maths teachers I remember were Professor U Aung Hla, Sayagyi U Kar, Sayagyi U Ba Toke, two Indian lecturers with the same last name Chowdhury. I forgot their first names. One Chowdhury was bald headed and the other had a lot of hair.They were teaching, I think, under contract with the Rangoon University. These very good teachers, I had to say, gave me a good foundation in mathematics. The English teachers were very good too. They were Saya U Kan Gyi and Sayama E. Kan Gyi. The only Burmese teacher I remember was Saya U Hla Maung who could make a boring topic into an interesting lecture. I owe a lot of gratitude to these wonderful teachers.

I joined the first year engineering class in 1951-1952 academic year, having satisfied the entrance requirements of the Faculty of Engineering mentioned above. The academic year , I think was from June to February with about one month break in October. So far as I know there was a “new course engineering” at the Faculty of engineering right after the World War ll. I do not know what the entrance requirement for this new course was.

I stayed in Prome Hall like most of the other engineering students in those days, as it was situated close to the B.O.C. College of Engineering building where we had classrooms, laboratories, and workshop for our engineering courses. A few engineering students however stayed in Tagaung Hall which was in the same Prome road campus of the Rangoon University as Prome Hall. Both of these hostels were timber buildings and they could easily get burnt down; but I was happy to see that they are still standing there when I visited Yangon in 2010. These two Halls gave accommodations to all engineering students, even to some students from Rangoon at that time, as there were vacancies and as the total engineering student population was not that big. If my guess is correct, I think there were about 350 to 400 students for 4 years of all engineering disciplines, out of which there were about 75 1st year engineering students. The system in place at that time was in such a way that the students had to take common courses in the first 2 years and branched out into different disciplines of choice, starting from 3rd year.

I remember that as first year engineering students, we still had to take mathematics classes from 7:00 am to 9:00 am at the main campus where we had taken the Intermediate of Science courses. I remember getting up early in the morning in Prome Hall ,and taking a walk along the road, what we called as “Padaukpin lane” or “Thaton lane”, and through Thaton Hall and Ava Hall , for the mathematics classes at the main campus. All of us then rushed back to B.O.C. College of Engineering from the main campus after 9:00 am to take the
engineering classes, which included lectures, practical laboratory work, workshop practice, and drawing classes, starting from 10:00 am. We normally finished our classes around 4:00 pm. The total contact hours of learning for engineering students were about 30 hours per week. If my memory is correct, it was difficult to get an engineering degree in 6 years after matriculation. Somewhere along the way some of us failed for one reason or the other, and had to repeat a class.The passing grade for each subject, which included workshop training at the Engineering Faculty was 40% and the average passing grade for all the subjects combined was 50%. When I passed my 1st year engineering in April/May 1952 I noticed that about 15% of my classmates were left behind to repeat the 1st year engineering.

I do not remember all of my teachers at that time. I can only recall that Saya Num Kock was in charge of 1st year engineering drawing, Saya Jaidka taught us ” building materials and construction”, Saya Ketrepal gave lectures and practical laboratory training in “heat engines”, Sayagyi U Kyaw Tun / Saya C. Ping Lee taught us “electrotechnology” in the classroom and in the laboratory. In addition to the lectures, laboratory work and drawing, all of us had to take workshop training in carpentry, blacksmith, welding, and in machine shop. The medium of teaching was English. We were also encouraged to take some practical training with some engineering organization during the summer vacation. I am not quite sure , but I think Ko Chit was an assistant at the blacksmith shop, and U Ba Sein was an assistant in the electrical lab. I think Mr P. Davis was the workshop superintendent. The classrooms , laboratory facilities, the workshop facilities that I had attended were good and adequate. The library I visited some time was full of good engineering books, magazines and journals. I could imagine that with its qualified teaching staff and good teaching facilities, the Faculty of Engineering was producing the qualified engineers needed by the
country at that time.

I do not know what was the total number of teachers we had at the Faculty of Engineering at that time. I could guess that the student/teaching staff ratio was about 20:1 from the number of teachers and from the number of students I had seen. I noticed that there were few Burmese nationals teaching staff at the Faculty, and most of the teachers were from India and UK. It seems that, right after the World War II, there was shortage of qualified teaching staff from Burma at higher education/University level as a whole. Sayagyi
Professor U Ba Hli was Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and I believe he received his post graduate degree from a British University. He was quite far-sighted and tried to broaden and improve the engineering education by having some kind of twinning arrangements with not only a British University but also with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA (M.I.T). I remember as a student that there was a visiting Professor called Professor Horwood from M.I.T at the Faculty; and I think he gave us lectures on sanitary engineering. Sayagyi U Ba Hli must have planned to increase the number of engineering disciplines that were given at the Faculty from civil, mechanical and electrical engineering to other disciplines as well, such as Mining, Chemical, Metallurgy, Textile engineering and Architecture. I understood this plan came into fruition in 1954/1955. He must have also planned to send the Burmese nationals to UK, USA and as qualified teaching staff at the Faculty at a later date. I therefore take this opportunity to put on record that a big credit is due to the late Sayagyi U Ba Hli for his contribution to the improvement of engineering education in Myanmar.

Editor’s note:
Sayagyi Dr. Freddie Ba Hli wrote an article about his father Sayagyi U Ba Hli for the commemorative issue of “RIT Alumni International Newsletter” for SPZP-2000. Sayagyi U Aung Khin, who requested Sayagyi Dr. FBH, wrote an introduction to the article.

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