Prof. Mohammad Yousuf Mohammad Sukkar

Borne in Wadi Halfa 1935, of a father who is of Nubian extraction who was born in Dammar and a mother, although she was born in Wadi Halfa, her family originated in Aswan.

Elementary education: ‘Kuttab’ Abdul Rahim then Wadi Halfa Elementary School in Tawfiquia which is the ‘Town Centre’, the village where my father originated from is Adendan and later settled in Sheikh Ali just north of Dabarousa, Wadi Halfa.


Life in Wadi Halfa had a great impact on the gift of a happy childhood with great variety shuttling between town and village life on the bank of the Nile; rich with agricultural activity and extremely colourful and stimulating to the imagination.


Intermediate education: Kosti Al Ahlia Al Wusta. I lived in Kosti from 1946 to 1951. During this period my father worked for Sudan Railways as the Kosti District Civil Engineer; which afforded me opportunities to travel frequently by rail from El Obeid to Sennar-Hag Abdalla. This section is the Kosti Sudan Railways District.


A lesson in civics: Life in Kosti was also full of variety in climate, vegetation and social interaction. The greatest impact on my life in Kosti came from the realization that we were under a colonial government, that education was not available for boys or girls. That our fathers were concerned and therefore they founded an intermediate school entirely funded by the people of Kosti. This ‘Ahlia’ School was the first and only Boys Intermediate School in Kosti in 1945. Many boys had their education in that school to mention a few: ElSammani Abdalla Yagoub (a pioneer in his own right), Ibrahim Ahmed Abdel Karim, Ali Ibrahim Malik and of course many others.


There was no girls’ school. A younger sister had to be sent to Khartoum to live with an aunt and an uncle to attend intermediate school. I remember at that time Kosti has a population of about 20,000!


Another lesson came from a group of dedicated teachers in Kosti Al Ahlia to mention a few: El Tayeb Abdalla Yagoub, Yahia Hussein, Abdel Hafiz Hashim, Hassan El Azhari, Omer Suliman, El Tahir Abdel Basit, Haroun Abdel Mageed, Shakir Mursal, Hassan Abdel Hafeez.


This school was started and housed in mud houses in Marabei until the new building was completed. Several well-known merchants contributed to this great Endeavour; to mention a few: Ahmed Kuku and Ahmed Abdel Gadir, Hassan Gamil, El Tayeb Ali Taha, Mohd. Musa, El Mamoun El Rayah and of course many others, perhaps better known to students who originally came from this beautiful city.


Educational impact: He learned to paint in this school and attained a good standard in English. Although our generation started the study of English at the age of 11 or 12, the methods and intensity were very effective. For those who want to follow this point further the system was based on ’New Method Readers’ ‘New Method Arabic Companions’ ‘New Method English Dictionary’ – by Michael West published by Longmans. He said it was effective because it did not concentrate on grammar but gave more weight to reading and vocabulary building. To the extent that in his experience he read almost all 40 or more books of Longmans simplified English Series and went to Khor Taqqat Secondary School with more than 7000 words all gained in a period of 4 years in Kosti.


Khor Taqqat Secondary School: Khor Taqqat Secondary School is another story in civic education. Teachers were looked up to as educational role models such as El Nasri Hamza, Abdel Halim Ali Taha, Ahmed Abdel Gadir and of course many others.


The impact of Khor Taqqat widened his vision; both socially and culturally. Some 480 students, staff and other personnel lived on campus. You had all you needed to study. Recreation was mainly in games and sports. Discipline was the order of the day and punctuality was its hallmark.


Studies in this secondary school, and of course in others, included classes which not only gave you knowledge but also developed your study skills. Obviously he did not know this at that time. Only in later years, when he became interested in education that he realized that the ‘precise’ class was actually not only developing language but study skills i.e., ‘reading for meaning’, extraction of important information and writing. There were British and equally competent Sudanese teachers. In fact most of the teachers were Sudanese.


The Medical School: There was cut-throat competition for a place in the one and only Medical School in the Sudan. When you were admitted, the passage was tough. In 1955, when his 30– student class started medical studies, most teachers were British. He remembered when the results of an anatomy viva came out one day on the notice board a few weeks before the 2nd MB examination. The names were divided into three groups – the ones above the first line, it was stated, will pass if they maintained their standard, the middle groups had to work very hard to pass and those below the red line, it said ‘their chances of passing the second MB BS was so remote as to be negligible.’ Signed HG Butler, Professor of Anatomy. Of course, this professor among others was one of the ‘Imperialist’ groups, as labeled by the more pro-Sudanese British Professors.


There was a handful of Sudanese staff namely Prof. Anis El Shami, Professor Daoud Mustafa, Dr. Ahmed Mohammed El Hassan (research assistant), Dr. Ali Khogali (research assistant). Sudanese specialists who collaborated with the Faculty were Professor Mansour Ali Hasseeb who later became the first Sudanese Dean; Dr. Mohamed Hamad Satti, Dr. Sayed Daoud and Dr. Abdel Halim Mohamad, Dr. Mohamad Hassan Abu Bakr and many others.


Lessons learnt: Compared to the present syllabi the study of medicine in the late 50s was much simpler. Textbooks were available, teachers were ‘accessible’ to a certain extent, biochemistry was part of physiology and microbiology was part of pathology. Student groups were small – a group of 3-4 constituted the anatomy dissection groups or group of 7-8 constituted the clinical group. Each student had 2-3 beds to clerk and follow-up.


With this background, the study of medicine was a serious business, a full-time job. As a student he had no doubt in his mind that he had to learn everything that came his way – ‘no gaps’ was the motto. Reading the textbooks including Gray’s anatomy was the order of the day. Professor J B Lynch gave comprehensive lectures in pathology with a lot of examples and detail. He listened for the 60-minute lecture and wrote almost every word. When the time came to revise pathology for the final exam, he felt the notes were so disorganized that he put them aside and read Boyd’s Pathology from cover to cover. The reward was a distinction and prize in pathology after a second viva in which 5 other candidates completed in a standardized oral examination.


Second lesson: there is nothing more important in clinical studies than seeing and examining as many patients as possible. Textbook study then becomes much more in context and extremely meaningful.


Somehow (at that time) I was disenchanted with clinical studies. The condition of the outpatient department, ward 8 and the old hospital left much to be desired. In 1956-8, Khartoum New Hospital was indeed an outstanding addition to the health service and medical education, but maintenance and cleaning were not on the agenda of the hospital’s administration. The science in medicine was nowhere to be found in every day practice.


He graduated with a distinction in surgery; whatever that means, and half of the prize. Further disenchantment awaited him during the housemanship and medical officer in surgery in A2. Perhaps the high points in our study came when they did get laboratory or other diagnostic results. Diagnostic aids if available make medical practice less of a guessing game in which the patients is not a key player. Such thoughts may have been part of the motivation to study human physiology and to teach and to do research.


University of Edinburgh: After one year and a half in the Department of Physiology as a research assistant, he was awarded a scholarship to study for the PhD in Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Edinburgh – the greatest education impact on his scholarly and professional training.


The method: simply self-reliance. The 1st year was spent in an honours course in physiology where intensive studies in the scientific method and searching for evidence were the main objectives. This was achieved though essay writing which required deep literature search, comprehension and synthesis.


The content: highly selected material currently growing or classical landmarks such as the work of Sir Charles Shemington, Hodgkin and Huxley, Sir John Eccles on membrane potentials and Iggo on sensory receptors. Practical work and assignments were followed by 3 years of research on insulin and growth hormone using the newly applied radioimmunoassay. His thesis culminated in the discovery that amino acid levels in the blood stimulated both insulin and growth hormones in the absence of increase in glucose levels. This was also proved at about the same time by an American group who infused amino acids in volunteers and measured plasma insulin. The research also opened another question about the inhibition of insulin secretion during exercise, which was later proved to be due to an alpha-receptor mechanism.


He returned to the University of Khartoum with a PhD in August 1968.


In 1968 was soon followed by 1969 with its eventful upheavals in academic and research circles. By the mid-70s a significant core of staff in the Faculty of Medicine were well versed in medical education. In the late 70s, a centre for ‘Educational Development of Health Professions’ was established as the Medical Education Unit. The centre became the focus of activity both locally and in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Itinerant teams were selected from the staff to join their colleagues from RTTC, Shiraz, in running workshops for teachers’ training in various medical schools in the region to mention a few: Kuwait, Sanaa, Aden, Baghdad, Karatchi, Jedda, Dammam and Amman. Pioneers in this activity included Professor Abdel Hamid Lutfi, Professor Omer Beleil, Professor Bashir Hamad, Professor Abdel A’al Abdalla Osman, Professors Abdel Rahman Abdel Salam and Abdel Salam Gerais. Perhaps this work with WHO and its financial rewards buffered the economic crisis, which was brewing during a period he was adamant against immigration to the Gulf States.


The National Council for Research (NCR): One of the earlier concepts adopted by the ‘May Revolution’ in 1969 was the idea of establishing the National Council for Research. This was based on the philosophy of centralizing research policy and research funding. Several specialized councils were established. The Medical Research Council was chaired by Professor Nasr el Din Ahmed and I acted as its secretary. During the early years the NCR had the vision of drawing a research policy setting of goals, identifying priorities and adopting mechanisms for building the research capacity of institutions, centres and universities. Applications for research funding by individuals or teams belonging to the above institutions would be evaluated by the specialized committees of the councils. That was a happy story while it lasted. The vision was there - the political will to pursue it was not.


Eventually NCR became NRC (National Research Centre) and lately went with a Ministry of Technology. National research policies are non-existent, or if they are they are not clear or publicized enough to active research workers within the Ministry of Higher Education. The later sets its own research priorities and revises them every year for funding purposes only.


The University of Khartoum: The University of Khartoum is to be commended on a well-planned and managed programme of staff/faculty development; which started in the late 50s of the last century and continued for over 20 years.


It came to a halt when the Sudan and the rest of the world were shrunk by the phenomenal inflation crisis following upon the October Suiz Canal War and the steep rise of oil prices. Although the oil prices came down eventually, manufactured goods kept rising, probably a trend aimed at reaping the petrodollars. The Sudan had no dollars at that time and our ambitious development plans collapsed. The exception was Kenana which was supported by petrodollars and Japanese capital. That was also the time when University of Khartoum Faculty was in high demand in the Gulf States.


This economic tug of war was accompanied by plans for two new universities in the Sudan, Gezira and Juba. A small task compared to what we are witnessing now. The task, however, was well planned. He had the honour in 1975 of leading the team appointed by the founding vice-chancellor of Juba University to plan for the medical school. The physical structures, equipment, teaching staff and other personnel were planned for the first five years together with a document for the medical curriculum.


The planning team included Professor Bashir Hamad, Professor Mustafa Badi, Professor Hashim Erwa, Professor El Sadig A/Wahab, Professor Mutamad Ahmed Amin, and Dr. Richard Hassan – (to complete the list lookup the report on establishment of Juba University Medical School). The team made a couple of trips to Juba to evaluate the available clinical teaching facilities and rural community health teaching outlets.


At about the same time, several of the faculty at UK Medical School were approached by the then Vice-chancellor, Professor Mohamed Obeid Mubarak to write the first medical curriculum for Gezira University. This team included Professor Mustafa Badi and Dr. Khalid Ahmed Gumaa and others. Both Juba and Gezira afforded these teams to introduce what is now known as ‘innovative approaches’ in medical education. Integration, horizontal and vertical was the philosophy adopted in both. Community-based studies were planned. In later years, during the late 70s & early 80s the task of implementation of the Gezira curriculum was brilliantly carried out by Professor Bashir Hamad and a dedicated team of educators who set an example in team-work and in curriculum management.


The Department of Physiology: It fell upon Prof. Sukkar’s shoulders to chair the department of physiology in 1972 to 1982. During that time they relied heavily on expatriate staff as most national staff had opted to work in the Gulf States. This period also witnessed an increase of the students’ intake up to 180 and expansion in infrastructures. More teaching assistants were recruited and sent for graduate studies in UK, two of them, however, completed their Ph.D. studies in the department. It may be relevant to record here that they introduced a form of practical examination in the late 70s which is now called the OSPE (objective structured practical examination)


Dr. Sukkar was promoted to senior lecturer (associate professor by today’s terminology) in 1972 and to professor in 1976.


The Graduate College University of Khartoum: He was appointed Dean of the Graduate College from 1979 to 1982. Salient points in that period were the increase of the number of registered students from about 600 to 1600 within a period of 3 years. This was mainly due to stopping almost all postgraduate scholarships abroad by donors and government. The college moved into a new building started by its second Dean, Professor Mohamed Omer Bashir. One of the things which he will never forget was the denial to finance a computerized registration system relying on an Apple desk top in 1981 which only cost 1000$!


At that time the fees for graduate studies were raised appreciably, supervision allowances were passed by the Senate with control on numbers of students supervised at any one time. This was where the computer was needed for follow-ups & statistical analyses.


On leaving the College, I left a proposal for perusal by the next Dean, professor Omer M El Agraa. The proposal was to decentralize registration 7 follow-up work to take place in the various campuses. This was later adopted and recently directors of studies were promoted to the status of Vice Deans.


Medical education: The narrative of educational development needs a stop for breath and look back on relevant events which led to its momentum. In the early 70s, WHO adopted a plan for improving the quality of health manpower development (HMD) which later became (HSMD) introducing service as a component of the programme. Part of this activity was teacher training what is now known as ‘faculty development’.


Teacher training: The WHO, Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, established a regional teacher training centre (RTTC) at Shiraz, Iran. Teachers from the region were given short training courses in educational planning, instructional methods and evaluation. Several leading staff of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum attended these courses. Others attended longer training periods in medical education in Chicago, Abraham Lincoln Medical School, University of Illinois.


The Illinois experience in medical education: He safely stated that the 1973 experience in the office for ‘Education Development (OCD)’ in the University of Illinois (the official name of the centre) was a real turning point in his life. This statement is not an exaggeration, because the educational experiences were actually planned in a manner which raised basic questions and self-evaluation. Several of the facilitators of that course were excellent role-models for teachers. There was one in particular who had the gift of running a discussion group quite effectively and talked amazingly little in the process; not an easy task as we all know! That was a time when he learned to examine his motives. To look at what he said and did more deeply and in so doing he gained the insight of knowing the difference between what is real and truthful and what is not. He learned not to believe everything that is said – so much of it is or may be just posturing, serving some purpose other than the one in question.

He learned to be patient (to an extent) with irrelevance. He learned that group or team-work is not a simple matter, that leadership is an art and a science to learn, to accomplish a task. The impact of this experience has led to a continuance of interest to learn more of the science and technology of education which seemingly has no limits. He is still learning.




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