Mechanical Engineering Post 1950

By Sayagyi U Aung Khin

I have chosen 1950 as the start of my recollections regarding the state of higher learning in the field of engineering because I was admitted to the Faculty of Engineering, Rangoon University, in June of that year. Also, Sayagyi U Ba Hli started his first year as Dean of Faculty of Engineering, having transferred from Government Technical Institute at Insein. The requirement for admission was 50% aggregate in Intermediate of Science Examination and there was no limit to the number admitted. There were about 75 students in my First Year, which included fresh admissions, repeat students and a few New Course transfers. I should explain that New Course transfers were those who signed up for the 5-year condensed degree course after matriculation offered in the previous years and which was scrapped in the year of my admission. When I started on my engineering course, it was of four years’ duration, at the end of which the degree of Bachelor of Science (Engineering) was awarded.Since I was a student as well a teacher of engineering, I will attempt to present my perspective of Mechanical engineering education from both sides.

In the first and second years of study, the students had to take courses basic to Civil, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, namely, Geometric, Machine and Building Drawing, Building Construction, Electrotechnology, Heat Engines, Surveying and Workshop. In addition, The Mathematics Department of Rangoon University was responsible for teaching Statics and Dynamics. Only in the third year were the students get to choose their line of engineering, civil,electrical or mechanical. So began my first year classes at the BOC College building. Actually, the first classes started every morning at 7am at the Mathematics Department where we were taught Statics and Dynamics by Dr. Sarkar till 9am. He was an extraordinary teacher and remembers every student by his roll number. Then we began the long trek to BOC College for rest of the classes of the day. Usually, lecture classes preceded before we spend the afternoon in the drawing room, laboratories, survey field or workshop.

The full-time staff of the faculty consisted of Dean and Professor of Civil Engineering Sayagyi U Ba Hli, Lecturer in Civil Engineering Sayagyi Mr. Jaidka, Lecturer in Electrical Engineering Sayagyi U Kyaw Tun, Assistant Lecturer in Civil Engineering Sayagyi Mr. H. Numkok and Superintendent of Workshop Mr. J. P. Law. Part-time lecturers were recruited to meet the goal of satisfying the requirements of the syllabus in each of the three disciplines. First and second year students were taught Building materials and construction by Sayagyi Mr. Jaidka, Electrotechnology by Sayagyi U Kyaw Tun ably assisted by Laboratory technician U Ba Sein in the laboratory, Heat Engines by part-time lecturer U Aung Than, Chief boiler inspector and Drawing by part-time lecturer and later on by Sayagyi Mr. Numkok when it came to Building drawing. Workshop program involved spending one term in each of the four shops, namely, machine, fitting, carpentry and blacksmith. Mr. J. P. Law made sure that students get hands-on experience in the use of tools. He stayed on for one year and was succeeded by U Aung Gyaw. Sayagyi U Ba Hli considered that technically challenged environment required students to be practical and workshop experience as well as summer practical training was essential. First year examination was a relatively easy hurdle for most students whereas the Second year examination was a lot harder and a career make or break event. I managed to get past the hurdle and found myself in the Third year to pursue my choice of Mechanical engineering in June of 1952. There were about twelve of us, all hoping to be an Assistant Engineer holding a civilian job, or a Leutenent in B.E.M.E. who were on army stipend, upon graduation. Third year courses included Heat engines, Theory of machines, Machine design, Electrotechnology, Strength of materials, Hydraulics, Metrology and Industrial management. We finally had a full-time staff in mechanical engineering. He was Mr. Khetrapal who came over from B.O.C. as an Assistant lecturer and he took care of all mechanical engineering subjects. In addition, Sayagyi Mr. Chelk Ping Lee came over from Directorate of Technical education to join the Electrical engineering staff and taught us Electrotechnology. Industrial Management was taught by a contract lecturer from India. We also had a U.S.Visiting professor and he taught us Strength of materials and for the first time we were introduced to the American quiz system of teaching.

About that time, the University focused its attention to modernizing and increasing the number of disciplines in the Faculty of Engineering by upgrading the staff as well as sending state scholars to the U.S. for future staffing. Sayagyi U Kyaw Tun was sent on deputation for post-graduate studies, followed by selection of several state scholars from among the engineering students. The first two were Sayagyi Dr. Aung Gyi and Sayagyi U Min Wun, earmarked for Civil engineering, followed by Sayagyi U Pu and me for Mechanical engineering, Sayagyi U Khin Aung Kyi for Chemical Engineering, Sayagyi U Maung Maung Than for Textile engineering, Sayagyi U Sein Hlaing and Sayagyi U Tin Swe for Electrical Engineering, Sayagyi U Kyaw Min for Architecture and Sayagyi U Thit for Metallurgy. We formed the initial group and other sayas were sent abroad for further studies in succeeding years as opportunity arose. I was instructed to leave for the U.S. in late December of 1952 to be in time for the start of the spring semester. So ended my exciting years at the Faculty of engineering and my classmates gave me and Sayagyi U Pu a farewell tea at the Sun Cafe to send us on our way.

I returned in early part of 1956, having obtained the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical engineering, the latter being an essential qualification for promotion to lecturership. Sayagyi U Ba Than had returned earlier from England and Sayagyi U Ba Hli got him working during summer holidays on various tasks such as supervising installation of new laboratory equipment, in preparation for the opening of the new school year. I was appointed as an Assistant lecturer in June. In the three years I was away, rapid and vast changes had taken place. Academically, engineering disciplines increased from three to seven, additions being Chemical engineering,Textile engineering, Mining engineering and Metallurgical engineering. Architecture department was also added to the Faculty. Staffing of the expanded fields of engineering as well as existing ones involved hiring contract teachers from India.Furthermore, additional staffing was provided by Columbo Plan donor countries in the form of visiting lecturers. On the physical side, a brand new complex was built fronting Prome Road by Taylor Woodrow Construction Company, consisting of an assembly hall, known as “Leik Khone”, administrative building and teaching blocks housing drawing rooms, lecturer theatres, classrooms and laboratories. Civil, Electrical and Mechanical engineering departments and Architecture department were located in the new complex. More importantly, Mechanical engineering department benefitted when Colombo Plan aid was channeled to provide laboratory equipment to various departments. A new Applied Mechanics laboratory located in the Mechanical wing was acquired. More modern equipment was added to the Strength of materials laboratory located in the new laboratory block. Heat engines laboratory recieved an educational Gas turbine unit along with other engines hooked up for testing.

I started my teaching career, for which I was earmarked when I was sent abroad for advanced studies, at a time of transition. The Mechanical engineering department had a staff of contract teachers from India and visiting lecturer Mr. W. Redpath from United Kingdom. Workshop Superintendent was Mr. V. Simon. Sayagyi U Ba Hli assigned me to teach First Year Drawing and First Year Heat Engines. Also, I was to assist Mr. Redpath in conducting the Heat Engines laboratories for the Third and Fourth Year students. The number of students admitted to the Faculty had been growing over the years and the size of the First Year Heat Engines class was about 150. Drawing classes were split into sections and limited to about 40 students each. The following year Sayagyi U Pu returned and later on Sayagyi U Ko Ko Gyi joined the staff. However, the contract teachers were leaving and the slack was taken up by the collective effort on the part of all of us. At the same time, attention was directed at modifying the syllabi of various departments to correspond with specialization in the practical field. Decision was made to introduce courses pertinent to a particular field of specialization at earlier stages, split some courses into component specialties or replace with more appropriate course. Subject of Mechanisms was introduced in the Second year. Heat Engines for First and Second years was renamed Thermodynamics to cover fundamental concepts and for senior years was split into Internal Combustion Engines and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. Fluid Mechanics replaced Hydraulics. Corresponding expansion of staff was taking place with Sayagyis U San Tun, U Tin Hlaing, U Tun Shwe joining the staff. All of them, along with Sayagyi U Ba Than, were sent abroad later for advanced studies.

In the late 1950’s, we learned that Soviet Union would make a gift of a complete and fully equipped Institute of Technology to be built at Gyogon with skilled and semi-skilled Burmese workers of Public Works Brigade together with Soviet Specialists. The Soviet Union would also provide lecturers in special fields as needed. It was decided that the Faculty of Engineering would be moved to the new location and reconstituted as a separate educational facility at the same time preserving the existing engineering education format and of six years duration with high school matriculates entering the First Year. It was realized that more drawing and laboratory space was required to accommodate the large classes entering the system. So three more buildings were added to the original design and where Mechanical Engineering and Architecture Departments were located. Thus Rangoon Institute of Technology was created as a pre-eminent place of higher learning in the country. Sayagyi U Yone Mo was the first Rector of the Institute. This is where I will end my recounting of events past, sometimes vague, with the dawn of a new decade and hope that it might help those wanting to know the humble beginnings of mechanical engineering education in a place called Myanmar. All of us who taught at, studied or graduated from or otherwise associated with the Institute remember it as a special place and fondly refer to it as R.I.T.

Categories: Saya

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