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News

Professor Hüseyin Vural is the Recipient of the 20th Vehbi Koç Award

The 20th Vehbi Koç Award, conferred annually in the fields of culture, education and healthcare, respectively, by the Vehbi Koç Foundation to recognize individuals and institutions that contribute to improving people’s quality of life was presented to the ILKYAR Foundation (İlköğretim Okullarına Yardım Vakfı – Primary School Aid Foundation) for its pioneering work in education and its founder, Professor Hüseyin Vural. The award ceremony took place on the digital platform due to the pandemic restrictions and was hosted by ARTER. Fatma Yıldırım, a master’s student at the Karadeniz Technical University and an ILKYAR volunteer for three years, which she referred to as a life changing journey that allowed her to go beyond the boundaries of her village, presented the award ceremony.

The Selection Committee, headed by Professor Mehmet Ali Alpar and consisting of members Professor Petek Aşkar, Professor İpek Gürkaynak, Professor Hasan Şimşek, and Işık Tüzün, nominated three candidates to the Vehbi Koç Foundation Board of Directors, which chose to recognize Professor Vural with the 20th Vehbi Koç Award. Professor Hüseyin Vural first came up with the idea for the ILKYAR Foundation in 1977 while he was studying for his PhD degree in the USA. The Foundation was established in 1998 after Vural’s return to Turkey together with Professor Vural Altın, Professor  Sıddık Yarman, and Professor Mahir Arıkol with the mission of fostering the imagination of children, building confidence and providing opportunities to unlock their various talents. ILKYAR Foundation, where activities are carried out by volunteers, uses its means to the maximum and works to motivate children toward their interests, provide books and materials for education, sports, and games, instill the love of reading in the students at village schools, and make sure that every school gets book aid. The volunteers visit village schools where they organize fun activities in a range of topics from literature and arts to mathematics and physics. They also arrange to provide scholarships for students in need, give out gifts, and host successful children in the summer schools at the Middle East Technical University and Boğaziçi University.

Ömer M. Koç: “The education gap widened further with the pandemic”
Ömer M. Koç, Chairman, Koç Holding, spoke at the ceremony, which was broadcast on the YouTube channels of Vehbi Koç Foundation and Koç Holding, “This award ceremony, which we are holding online due to the pandemic, gives us an opportunity to remember Vehbi Koç on the 25th year of his passing and to remind the values that he dedicated his life to. The words of Vehbi Koç, ‘I exist if my country exists,’ are a testament to his vision, which was way ahead of his time, and show us that he believed that he and all our stakeholders shared the same fate. With this responsibility, he built many invaluable institutions in the fields of education, healthcare, and culture to serve our country. Keeping his ideals alive is our great pride and an honorable duty.”

Ömer M. Koç added, “As we recognize an esteemed organization and its founder tonight, we also witness what can be achieved when we work with determination. Undoubtedly, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had wide-ranging effects. But the condition of education is particularly striking and upsetting. The ‘Distance Education in Figures’ statistics on the website of the Ministry of National Education show that nearly 2.5 million students do not have access to the Education Information Network (EBA). I am certain that our government is following the situation closely and taking the necessary actions. In any case, the fact that 15 percent of the students are left out of the system points to a dire picture. This situation affects the children in lower socioeconomic status and underserved regions even more I am afraid. In short, this ongoing issue seems to have worsened with the pandemic and the education gap has widened further. It falls on us to prepare our children for a rapidly evolving world and a future that will be very different from today. We should equip them with 21st century skills and the necessary competencies so that they can find a place for themselves in tomorrow’s world and moreover, have a say. It is our shared responsibility to raise individuals who are equipped with critical reading, analytical thinking, and interpretation skills that form the basis of free thinking already at school to ensure that they become knowledgeable and interested in the fields of science, culture, and the arts. We should regard education as our foremost priority for the prosperous and bright future of this country. Otherwise, how can we raise generations with ‘free thoughts, free conscience, free wisdom’ as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk envisioned? Thankfully, we have people who love this country, who have this awareness, who step up and take responsibility before anyone else no matter what the conditions are, and who lead the society. The recipient of our award tonight is such a venerable individual and his story is as special as he is.”

Prof. Dr. Hüseyin Vural: “We can bring innovations to the world with confidence fostered by knowledge”
After accepting the award from Ömer M. Koç, Professor Hüseyin Vural spoke about the stories of children and young people that ILKYAR touches across the country, “I believe that bringing these children together at great events will be very beneficial for the future of our country. When you reach out to the children and make them feel important, they work with great enthusiasm and excitement to unlock their capabilities and go places. As technology advances, all kinds of disruptors emerge. There are 2-terabyte memories on the market and soon there will be 4-terabyte options. You can store five hundred thousand books in a 4-terabyte memory and carry all the knowledge base of humankind in your pocket. We can digest this knowledge and do great things. But if we turn to wrong causes, technology can play a numbing role instead of providing benefits. Social media is filled with such interesting information and videos that we are in awe of the perfections but slowly the children and we as well begin to feel numb. We feel like, ‘they did everything, we can’t do these things’. Actually, we can offer innovations to humankind with confidence fostered by knowledge.”

Professor Hüseyin Vural also talked about the recently launched Science Ambassador project, “We designated 81 village children in 81 provinces as librarians. They can share a computer and view the EBA classes. Children in the villages are the most unfortunate ones in this country. Even though they go to good schools in the nearby towns or cities because of the mobile education system, they immediately get on the bus and return to their homes when the school is over at two o’clock or two-thirty. This means that they don’t get to benefit from the school’s resources. And back home, they do what village life requires them to do; they either clean after the animals or help their mothers. They are distanced from education. There is no rule that the Edison of this country will come from a big city. There could be undiscovered Edisons in those villages. So, the joy of reading should be kept alive. The Ministry of National Health has a great quote that says, ‘Not one individual can be ignored in education’. Our Science Ambassadors work like librarians and distribute books to the children. We connect with them online and conduct experiments together. We embarked on a wonderful journey with our Science Ambassadors. These are excellent children and I believe that they will go places. I live to see the days when they will serve our people while always maintaining their humanitarian values, love and respect, and their smiles.”

Professor Hüseyin Vural noted that the Summer Science School, supported by TÜBİTAK, has continued for 19 years and noted, “Our Science School is organized on the METU campus. The scientists at METU meet with the children. These kids develop their own experiment sets and take part in several activities. In the busy schedule of the Summer Science School, they promise us, ‘We will be like you and become good citizens that serve our people and our country’. The Summer Science School is an annual, 8-9 day program. We hope to repeat it throughout the year. We have a dream: We would like to build a Science and Art Village that children from the villages and cities will visit. We will build it with a good infrastructure, we will have constantly updated laboratories and the parents will be interested in this village as well.”

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