An interview with an inspiring young man from Turkey about his involvement in the education field.
We are in a cultural centre in the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Mustafa Simsekler is surrounded by around twenty children aged between three and ten years old and their parents. In just an hour, as part of its educational robotics workshops, his goal is teaching them how to build the “fastest car model”.
In the middle of a set of batteries, motors and coloured cards, one can clearly perceive the smiles of these children and their parents, who almost seem to be having as much fun as their children.
His organization is called “Little Engineers Academy”. It consists of a series of robotics workshops during which children can develop not only their hand and production skills, but in particular their ability to be real problem solvers.
I have talked with Mustafa to know more about his story and the functioning of his organization.
Can you talk to me about your background?
“I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering in Italy and I did another bachelor’s degree in law in Turkey. I also did a masters in Robotics and children brain development.
Then I worked for Boeing aircraft company in the United States, in three different places: Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle. Then I worked in Chile and my last job was in France. I was working for NATO doing research. Then I came back to Turkey where I also worked for the Turkish Air force.”
And then what happened?
In 2016, they fired me because we were not doing what the government was asking and I was against the Turkish Syrian possible war, the government did not like it. So, I lost my job. The government started to paint us as terrorists, my brothers went to prison, they all lost their jobs and one of them was banned from university…My father couldn’t handle it and he died. It was hard for us and at that time there was this pressure from the government… It was at that moment that I founded this company, “Little Engineers Academy”, 7 years ago.
With my colleagues we tracked the academic work that was available on brain development of children and this company became so famous in Turkey. We are basing our trainings on “the game”. In fact, also the children have a job and their job is solving a game. In these workshops we only suggest to children games without laptops, phones or any kind of screen because they are very harmful in early childhood.
Why did you have to flee Turkey?
I founded this company in Turkey, where it became so famous that we had almost 20 workers. However, after a while the Turkish government asked for consultancy from us, they gave me a 6 years judgment, they were considering me as a terrorist.
So, one day I decided to flee, I started to swim from Turkey at 12 and I was in Greece at 6.
Then I went to Italy, because I had some ID card from my study period, and finally I came to the Netherlands, in 2021, it’s almost 15 months since I have been here.
I came here as a refugee and I was in a camp, and at that time it seemed to me so awkward to just spend my time sleeping in a bed so I started giving lessons to children in the camp. I began to do some voluntary jobs and at the time I also had a contact with Utrecht’s mayor Ms. Sharon Dijksma who really helped me find some subsidies. I started giving lessons all around the Netherlands and I am currently giving classes in 14 different places in the country. Even if other high-tech companies offered me higher salaries, I am really happy with my job, I want to do something with children so that’s why I chose this way. It was also a way to say thank you to this country.
How does your workshop work?
So, in general, all the robotic companies are using ready materials and solving ready programs and they are all dependent on screens which are really harmful for children at an early age.
Our aim is to give children only the motor and batteries, as all the other materials come from nature and can be found everywhere. For example, we are making some robots from the roots, stones, chestnuts…Children can do robotics from everything, they don’t need extra materials. And we are also doing something that they are really going to use in their homes, airplanes, bedroom lamps…
Right now, we trained 1000 children in the Netherlands and more than 6000 children in the world. This education program is working in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in the Netherlands and Turkey.
Our objective is to teach them how to solve problems, not about coding or programming. People think about coding or programming as a goal, but it’s not the goal, it is brain development, helping them develop the ability to solve problems. This is because we don’t know in the future which issues and technologies, they are going to face but we know that they will have problems in their life…If you are a good problems solver in your life, in every occasion, when they you are stressed or criticized by others, you will have the ability to make the right decisions.
By Serena Lucia Bassi