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Dr. Aung Gyi [2]

Updated : August 4, 2019

After attending the 2nd year engineering class from June 1952 to September 1952, I went straight to MIT on a state scholarship to continue my studies . Saya U Min Wun and I went together to MIT and joined the academic session, starting from September 1952. We met Dr Freddie Ba Hli at MIT, who was already studying for his Ph.D in electronics or electrical engineering. He was one of the nicest and helpful persons that I have ever met in my life. He gave us briefings and guidance so that we were able to assimilate into the American education system and American way of life without any difficulty He also helped us with our home works when we had some difficulties in the beginning. I am forever grateful to him for his kind help. I am sure U Min Wun feels the same. Saya U Khin Aung Kyi, Saya U Sein Hlaing, U Percy Lao, U Win Htein, U Kyaw Min, Robin Aw, U Kyaw Thein, U Aung Kywe, U Aung Myint and U Sein Hla came to MIT for further studies at a later date. U Percy Lao later became Rangoon City Engineer (water and sanitation), U Win Htein who is an architect became a Rangoon City Building Engineer, and the late U Kyaw Min became a free lance architect [and also taught part-time at the Architecture department for some time]. All these three professionals taught some time at RIT. I do not know what happened to Robin Aw. The late U Kyaw Thein was an engineer at the Construction Corporation and later became a lecturer at the Civil Engineering Department at RIT. U Aung Kywe was a Director (water and sanitation) at the Construction Corporation. U Aung Myint became the Chief Architect at the Construction Corporation. U Sein Hla was an engineer at the Construction Corporation and later became the Registrar at RIT under Rector U Yone Moe. Later more batches of Burmese students came to MIT when I was no longer there. I am describing all these things to point out the fact that the standard of engineering education in Burma at that time was quite good. None of us had to go through the entrance examination to get into MIT. They trusted our grades and our education standard. Maybe the visiting Professor Horwood from MIT was quite impressed with the Faculty of Engineering and put a good word for us to the MIT admission authorities.

I will not go into details of the activities of all the various students’ associations, societies and clubs, as there were so many of them. But I would like to mention briefly about the hostel life, that I had experienced at that time. Every hostel had what we called a social and reading club . There was an adequate room reserved for this club at the ground floor of the hostel. In general, newspapers, popular magazines, a chess board, a carom board and a table tennis were provided so that the hostel students could read, play chess, play carom board, and play table tennis and socialize to get to know each other well. Even without the social and reading club, all the hostel students ended up knowing each other well sooner or later, as they met each other almost everyday at the hostel and at the dining hall. The hostel students were in general well behaved. I hardly saw the Warden or Hall Tutors at Ava Hall and Prome Hall, as there were very few student problems which needed attention of the Warden or Hall Tutors.

Based upon my experience, I feel that these extra-curricular activities and hostel life gave the opportunities to the students to broaden the knowledge of the different parts of Myanmar; and they also created a better understanding of the different culture, food, habit, dresses, dialects etc of the country. Most of the students developed life-long friendships through these activities which contributed to well-beings of these students throughout their lives. Sport activities also taught the students about hard work, cooperation, team work, competition, winning and losing. The extra-curricular activities also triggered, developed and enhanced the hidden talents of some of the students. These activities therefore formed part of the University education of the students, in addition to the education that they received from the classrooms. Another benefit of these activities was the bonding and a better understanding, which developed between the students and the teachers who were involved in these activities.

After getting my Bachelor degree in Cvil Engineering in 1955 and my Master degree in Civil Engineering in 1956 from MIT, I worked for Engineering Companies for a year, which involved both design and fieldwork in engineering construction projects. I then came back to Rangoon in 1957 to join the Civil Engineering Department as an Assistant Lecturer. I was promoted to become a Lecturer in 1958 and became also more or less Head of the Civil Engineering Department. The policy in place at the University of Rangoon under the Ministry of Education at that time stated that a teacher/ any person could become a lecturer / professor only if he/ she had a post graduate degree. Sayagyi U Ba Hli was the Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean of the Faculty at the same time. U Aung Khin was Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, U Sein Hlaing was Head of the Electrical Engineering Department, U Khin Aung Kyi was Head of the Chemical Engineering Department, U Soon Sein was Head of the Mining Engineering Department, U Thit was Head of the Metallurgy Department, and U Maung Maung Than was Head of the Textile Engineering Department. I think Mr Johnson was Head of the Architecture Department. I do not remember who was the Workshop Superintendent at that time. We were quite happy as we had new facilities near the Prome road in addition to the B.O.C College of Engineering building. These new facilities comprised of a tall administrative building (with offices, conference/meeting rooms, library), classrooms, lecture theaters, laboratories , offices for the teaching staff and a small assembly place under the copper dome roof in the corner of the campus. The dome roof looked like a turtle back, and pretty soon this new campus became known as “turtle dome /leik khone” campus. After our arrival from USA, UK etc, the foreign teachers under contract were let go, as we gradually replaced them, except for a few teachers from UK or USA. I could recall Prof. Neale? in Electrical Engineering Department, Mr Redpath and Mr Skelton in Mechanical Engineering Department and Mr Johnson and Mr Nagler in Architecture Department.

As a young teacher I was surprised and pleased to see a few pioneering female engineering students (not more than ten) at the Leik Khone campus. They and their parents overcame the social uneasiness and they decided to study engineering/architecture to become lady engineers /architects. I do not know exactly when they first joined the 1st year engineering class; but It was one of the important turning points in the history of engineering education.

As young teachers, most of us were struggling to learn how to teach effectively at the beginning. I noticed that we were teaching about 15 to 20 hours per week which included lectures, laboratory and drawing classes. The contact hours of learning for the students remained the same as the time when I was an engineering student i.e. about 30 hours per week. The passing grade for the students also remained the same. i.e. 40% for each subject and 50% average for all the subjects combined. The medium of teaching was still in English. The laboratory and workshop facilities were quite good and adequate for the student population that we had. But the library looked quite small when I compared it with the library that they had in MIT, although it had a few good engineering books and journals. I felt that it needed a lot of investment to become a top notch engineering library.

It was with enthusiasm and hope that most of us were busy trying to build up our respective departments and trying to improve the engineering education in general. While we were busy, Professor and Dean U Ba Hli retired some time around 1961, and in place of U Ba Hli we had a succession of temporary Deans, Professor of Chemistry U Po Tha, Professor of Geology Dr Tha Hla, and Professor of Physics Dr Maung Maung Kha for about 6 months. The Faculty of Engineering also had to move to a new campus in Gyogone in 1961. Before our relocation to Gyogone, the Faculty of Engineering was one of the Faculties of the University of Rangoon. The academic and administrative related policy decisions were made by the Senate and Administrative Council of the University of Rangoon respectively so as to maintain and improve the standard of education of all its Faculties, including the Faculty of Engineering.

As you all know, Gyogone campus was built with the aid of Russia; and I understood that the Government of Burma paid back the cost in rice. I do not know whether it was true or not. In any case it was and still is an impressive looking campus. The buildings accommodated classrooms, laboratories and workshop, big assembly hall with a movie projector, library, offices for the administrative and teaching staff,and student hostels. There were also houses for all the staff, dining and kitchen facilities, small medical clinic, and open space for sport activities. All the buildings, houses etc occupied and still occupy a large area in a compound.

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