Computer Pioneer in Burma
- Dr. Chit Swe founded the Universities’ Computer Center (UCC) in Rangoon, Burma with the help of Saya U Soe Paing, Saya U Myo Min and Saya U Ko Ko Lay (GBNF).
- Pioneer of Computer Education and Applications in Burma
- Proponent of Life Long Learning, Technology Transfer, Leapfrogging Technology, Building Trust.
- His former colleagues and students are planning to honor “Saya Chit” set up a statue tentatively at the University of Computer Studies in Yangon (UCSY).
Saya is a native of Ei Lar, Pyinmana.
He attended Mandalay University. His friends include Dr. Maung Di (Saya Di) and U Khin Maung Tint (Tekkatho Phone Naing (who supposedly based his characters on his friends).
Saya studied at the University of London and the University of Liverpool.
During his studies at the University of London, Saya U Ba Than (Retired Professor of Mechanical Engineering, RIT) was his room mate.
Computer for Research and Teaching
Saya was Head of Mathematics Department at the Institute of Economics when he proposed to the Ministry of Education to acquire a computer for research and teaching.
Saya Dr. Nyi Nyi (Deputy Minister of Education) requested Saya Chit to extend the scope of his proposal to cover selected universities and institutes.
The UCC project was born.
It would take several years before UNDP would approve to fund the UCC project.
UNESCO would act as the Executing Agency.
Temporary Offices for UCC
The temporary offices for UCC were opened at Mandalay Hall, Rangoon Arts and Science University (RASU).
During that time, construction for the UCC Building started at the Thamaing College Campus.
Computer Science and Application courses were offered to volunteers, selected sayas and students.
The Courses were taught by
- Dr. Chit Swe
- U Soe Paing
- U Myo Min
- U Ko Ko Lay
- U Shwe Hlaing
- Dr. Kyaw Nyunt
Thamaing College Campus
UCC moved over to Thamaing College Campus as a neighbor to RC2 (Regional College Two).
Saya Chit became the Founder and Director.
Saya Paing (U Soe Paing), Saya Myo (U Myo Min) and Saya Lay (U Ko Ko Lay) joined UCC as Managers in charge of Systems Division, Applications Division, and Operations Division.
Later, Applications Division was split into Business Applications Division and Scientific and Technical Applications Division.
Saya Chit’s Vision
Saya was a pioneer and an advocate of
- Technology Transfer
- Leapfrogging Technology
- Knowledge Sharing
- Lifelong Learning
- TOSS (Team of System Specialists).
To help expedite the computerization in Burma, Saya Chit mandated the “training & knowledge transfer” component in the UCC project. The component would allow the invitation of elite Computer Scientists and Practitioners from USA, UK and Europe as short-term and long-terms experts at UCC.
The “training anad knowledge transfer” contract was awarded to Professor Harry D. Huskey (Computer Pioneer, Past President of ACM), who taught at University of California Berkeley (UCB) and University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC).
Dr. Huskey is a Fellow of ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) Fellow, and CHM (Computer History Museum).
Dr. Huskey co-authored an early Computer Handbook with Korn.
He designed a computer for the US Bureau of Standards.
His students include Nicklaus Wirth, inventor of Pascal and several programming languages.
Dr. Huskey persuaded several distinguished Computer Scientists and Educators to transfer their knowledge and expertise.
The following is a partial list of the experts provided by Dr. Huskey.
- Anthony Ralston (Chair of CS, SUNY Buffalo, Past President of ACM) is an expert on Numeral Analysis and Structured Programming. He introduced Structured Programming to UCC sayas and students.
- Peter Wegner (Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island) taught selected topics (Automata Theory, Parsing, Programming Languages). He authored an early self-assessment test for Computer Programmers.
- Michael Stonebraker (UC Berkley) designed and implemented INGRES (Relational Database Management System) with Professor Eugene Wong and Gerald Held. The three would form Ingres and several other companies (such as Postgres). Stonebraker won the ACM Turing Award — equivalent of Nobel Prize in Computing — a few years back. He is affiliated with MIT.
- Malcolm P. Atkinson (Cambridge University Mathematics & Computer Lab) taught students M.Sc. (CS) with Systems Option for a year. He introduced BCPL, SLP and several programming languages. He supervised their theses.
- Foreman Acton authored a book on designing and implementing algorithms to minimize computational errors.
Database Projects at UCC
Under the supervision of Saya U Soe Paing, U Aung Zaw, U Tun Aung Gyaw and several students — Htay Lwin Nyo, Aung Thurein, Kyaw Zwar Than, Sein Myint, Aung Zaw Maung — implemented projects (based on INGRES and other Databases) on ICL.
Khin Maung Zaw (KMZ, EC76, UCC) wrote :
In my line of work, prior to my retirement, Knowledge Transfer is one of the several criteria for the success of the Organization/Company. The others are “Documentation” and some mechanism to transfer/document “Tribal Knowledge”.
It was a major challenge for all of us, it was, and still is, a thankless catch up process in the very fast changing Internet. When someone from the management and/or product wanted some new features, the timeline always was ‘yesterday’. They almost always wanted it done ‘yesterday’ as we jokingly called it.
There are innumerable projects/processes we spent so much time could get shelved due to whatever reasons. Documentation and Knowledge Transfer became after thought. And when the key people moved on to other projects it became a nightmare for people who took over.
KMZ added :
There was a story told by Dr. Stonebraker where he learnt of the amazement on our faces when we saw his gigantic shoe. It was about the tough drill sergeant Stone and a small recruit called Stonebraker at the boot-camp. Since I was not a good story teller, I googled/binged Internet but none came up yet.
I believe Rafiul went to work for Stonebraker at Ingres when he moved to California. Htay Lwin Nyo told me about it when I met him. Ingres was eventually sold to CA (Computer Associates).
Editor’s Note :
One of my early assignments was to work with developers from Fujitsu and some subsidiaries, Computer Associates and some subsidiaries (including Ingres).
Saya Chit’s modesty
During a trip to Chauk Htat Yone (Six Storey Office), the admin would “ignore” Saya Chit and would pay respect to U Myint Oo (his student and volunteer assistant), who was well dressed and was carrying a brief case.
Saya thought that I had served as an Editor for a newspaper. I had written articles, poems and translations for Guardian and WPD (Working People’s Daily) newspapers and Forward Magazine.
Upon learning that I was an RIT alumni volunteering for the UCC Project, Maung Thaw Ka (Bohmu Ba Thaw, Chief Editor of Forward Magazine, GBNF) suggested that I should join his staff
In my 3rd BE, editors from NAB (News Agency Burma) headed by Tet Toe (U Ohn Pe, Chief Editor) invited me to join their staff.
My parents supported my hobbies, but they wanted to make sure that I have a good education and a decent job.
Saya Chit believed in me and gave me the opportunity to take challenges. I was fortunate to be a member of several of his projects.
- Children’s Treasury of Knowledge (CTK)
- Editor, High School Mathematics (for the then new curriculum)
- Team of System Specialists (TOSS)
- Planning using PERT for the UCC implementation
- Preparing lecture notes and training manuals with Saya U Soe Paing and Saya U Aung Zaw
Saya was a Prime Mover and a proponent of “Technology Transfer”, “Leapfrogging Technology” and “Life long learning”.
A week in the Sagaing Hills
Ma Ma Mi (Daw Khin Khin Latt) is from Sagaing. She wanted Saya Chit to be a Yahan at a monastery in Sagaing Hills. Some monastery compounds are named after the towns in Irrawaddy Delta. Ko Myint Oo and I offered to be temporary monks with Saya Chit.
There are two phases to become a monk :
- Novitiation (Shin Pyu) or “Lower Ordination” to become a “Ko Yin” (novice)
- “Thane Wyn” or “Higher Ordination” in a Sima (Thane) in the presence of five or more monks to become an Upazin (monk).
In Yangon, the Higher Ordination ceremony takes 15 – 30 minutes. The final part is an Exhortation by the Preceptor. As Mentor to the newly ordained monk, the Preceptor shares his knowledge and gives advice.
When the Preceptor learned that Saya Chit is a renowned Professor and the Founder/Director of UCC, he gave “extra” attention by exhorting for “close to three hours”. Sayadaw enjoyed illuminating Saya Chit. Since I could barely squat, I was “offered” a pillow to rest my knees and I was allowed to “kneel down” on the pillow.
After a week of monk hood, we returned to our lay life sans (without) our hair. Ko Myint Oo is a social animal. He knew two Guides from “Tourist Burma”. At least one of them was a new hire. They had a reasonably tough assignment. They had to show an American student (in his senior year at a New York University) trying to write a first-hand report about the Buddhist artifacts in Mandalay and Sagaing. The Guides requested help from Ko Myint Oo, who shunted. In a moment I became a volunteer tourist guide explaining (to the best of my knowledge) Buddhism & rites and rituals.
Life After UCC
After UCC, Saya served as Rector of RASU, but his passion for his “Dream Child” and his care for his former students never diminished.
After retirement, Saya moved to Bangkok, Thailand where he worked as Advisor for selected UN Projects. Saya also taught at Assumption University — formerly known as ABAC (Assumption Business and Accounting College). Saya Chit had a mini-reunion with Saya U Aung Zaw, who was teaching Computer Science at the University.
Saya later relocated to Sydney, Australia. He served as Visting Professor at Macquerie University.
Several Burmese in Bangkok and Sydney completed their doctorates under his supervision.
Reunion With Saya In Australia
In June 2006, I visited Sydney, Australia to attend several gatherings:
- RIT alumni gathering headed by Saya U Hla Myint (Charlie, M65) and Saya U Myo Win (Melvin, M65, GBNF)
- UCC alumni gathering at Saya U Aung Zaw’s house where we paid homage to Saya Chit and Saya Dr. Freddie Ba Hli (National Planning Adviser & Board Member of UCC, GBNF)
- Old Paulians gathering at Olympic Park organized by Dr. Thann Naing (Bonnie Kywe, SPHS66, Geology)
Saya asked me to give a lecture or seminar to interested young people in Sydney. He then presented me with his hat. I hope that Saya’s hat can transfer Saya’s brilliant thinking into my head.
In the past years, Saya visited Singapore and Myanmar and shared his wisdom, knowledge and experience.
For example, Saya gave a seminar in Yangon in 2013.
Saya’s Seminar in 2013
Dear All, Kindly invite to participate the Seminar on “We must Build A Learning Organization” by Dr. Chit Swe, as per following schedule: Date: 21 October 2013 (Monday) Time: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Venue: Conference Hall , MICT Park , Yangon.
As Saya Chit approached 89 years, his health declined, but his mind was sharp as ever.
In a phone call, Saya told me that Australian universities started their Computer Education and Training programs in the early 1970s (about the same time UCC was founded). The Australians are trying to leverage the newer technologies. Saya wanted to Myanmar Computer Experts (from around the world) to help Myanmar in general, and Computer Education and Applications in particular.
Sadly, saya passed away in November, 2019.
But his legacy will remain for years to come.
Saya’s Last Journey
Invitation for Viewing
Castlebrook Memorial Park Crematorium
Date : 28 November 2019
Time : 12 – 2 PM (Australia AEDT)
Location : 712 – 746 Windsor Road
Rouse Hill NSW 2155
(Opposite Rouse Hill Shopping Center)
Web site: https://www. castlebrook.com.au
Hundreds (and may be Thousands) have expressed their sadness for the loss of Sayagyi in the newspapers and in the Facebook pages.
The following is a sample.
- U Ba Than (M.A., Retired Director General, Thuwanna), Saya Chit’s classmate in 1947 at the first I.Sc.(A) class offered at Mandalay University and was a fellow teacher, is saddened by the loss of “Ko Chit Swe”.
- Thin Char Mi Thar Su of the University of Yangon is indebted to Sayagyi Dr. Chit Swe for his dedication to the dissemination of Mathematics.
- Myanmar Naing Gan Thin Char Ah Thinn offers condolences to the family members of Sayagyi Dr. Chit Swe (Retired Rector) and Sayagyi U Aung Sein (Retired Associate Professor).
- ex-UCC Mi Tha Su (UCC Alumni) expresses their sorrow to the Founder of Computers and Computer Education in Burma. Members from Myanmar and beyond (Singapore, USA, Australia, …) can never forget Sayagyi and his passion for transforming his students from good to better and great professionals, educators, researchers, and socially responsible citizens of the world.
- U Win Thein (Padamyar Winhtein) has updated Wikipedia to include Saya’s pioneering work.
- Saya U Aung Zaw (AZ) spent five decades or so under the tutelage of Saya Chit. He organized mini-PZPs for Saya Chit. I attended one gathering in 2006.
- UCSY Facebook page remembers Sayagyi as the pioneer Saya for Computer Education in Burma / Myanmar.
- I have honored my mentor Saya Chit in my newsletter, Facebook pages and my websites hlamin.com and lifelonglearning140.wordpress.com
- Saya Dr. Khin Maung Win wrote about Sayagyi in Moemaka
- Sayama Daw Si Si also wrote about Sayagyi
- Dr. Swe Latt is named after his parents Dr. Chit Swe and Daw Khin Khin Latt.
He had posted/ re-posted news and stories about Saya Chit.
He also emailed me the biography of Saya.
- UCC Alumni in Myanmar, USA, Singapore and Australia offered Garawa money for Sayagyi’s last journey.