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Child prodigy bullied into dropping out of high school, family says

Aug. 21, 2023 - 14:56 By Yoon Min-sik
(Baek Gang-hyeon's YouTube channel)

An 11-year-old who earned nationwide fame as a child prodigy recently dropped out of high school, with his father alleging he had been subject to bullying from his much-older classmates.

Baek Gang-hyeon’s father on Sunday afternoon posted to the child’s YouTube channel that bullying against his son at school directly affected Baek’s decision to leave Seoul Science High School, one of South Korea's elite science academies, which the boy had entered this year.

Earlier in the day, the boy posted a video on the channel saying that he had dropped out and wants to pursue a more creative path, like songwriting and making board games, while preparing for the college entrance exam. He thanked his freshman classmates, with no mentions of bullying.

The father said that after posting the video, Baek received a “threatening” email from a classmate’s mother, which pushed him and his wife to reveal what they claimed was severe bullying. According to the father, Baek was told that him being a student of the prestigious high school was the same as “deceiving the entire (Korean) people,” that he had not been given any role in group projects and that students posted malicious comments about him on the internet.

Later in the day, Baek’s mother disclosed the supposed email from the classmate’s mom, which accused her of "degrading the image of other students and graduates" by lying that her son was leaving the school because he wanted to pursue other interests. The email also claimed that Baek got only one answer right on a math test, and that he was given preferential treatment in admission to the school.

Baek’s father said the family has been receiving malicious messages from other parents at the school, and they plan to file legal charges against the parent that sent the threatening email. But he posted another video Monday saying he was unsure of whether to pursue legal action, as the parent in question had sent another email apologizing for her actions.

Through the text in the video, the father raised questions about the school failing to take proper actions for his son, such as responding to the boy's mental suffering. He said the school refused to let the boy do a group project by himself, which the child had requested after no one wanted to be in the same group as him.

With the public laying the blame on the school’s students, someone claiming to attend Seoul Science High School posted online on Monday that most of the students at the school had no idea about the problems Baek faced.

“The gap between ages 11 and 16 is not nothing. I am not denying Gang-hyeon’s talent and abilities. But since he is too young to give feedback and freely converse (with us), many of us who are preparing for college admission weren't willing to join him in group projects,” she wrote.

It has not been verified whether the author of the online post was actually a student of the school.

Baek became one of the best-known child prodigies in South Korea through various TV appearances, making headlines for finishing elementary and middle school in four years and getting genius-level scores on IQ tests.