The education of Jun-youngWhen asked to solve a calculus problem on the blackboard, Yun Jun-young gets up and walks to a telephone that sits on a desk at the front of the classroom. After quietly talking for a moment, he puts down the receiver. Then he returns to the board, picks up a piece of chalk and completes the equation.
A high school math student asking for help? No. Yun Jun-young is a fourth-grader at Seoul's Samjeon Elementary School. He went to the phone simply to ask his father for permission to demonstrate his expertise to fellow classmates.
"My father," Jun-young, all of 10, says later, "doesn't like it if I show off in front of others."
Like it or not, Yun Jun-young does stand out. He has an IQ of more than 156 and holds government accredited licenses in two technical fields: Information management and Internet searching. But Lee Dae-won, Jun-young's homeroom teacher, says, "He displays the same emotional level as his friends. He kids around like any 10-year-old."
"He's very smart, even if he talks very fast," says Shin Hee-chang, who sits next to Jun-young. A girl in his class, Lee Hyeon-ju, adds, "His nickname is 'Alien' because he's got such a large head and because he asks weird questions, like someone from another planet."
Curiously, Jun-young doesn't seem to mind the bantering and smiles sheepishly when his classmates comment on his braininess.
He recently made news by creating a 2002 World Cup Memorial CD, an impressive compilation of World Cup news reports, statistics, trivia, facts about the players and coach Guus Hiddink, as well as World Cup theme songs. He gave out the CDs to his classmates and even to Mr. Hiddink, who returned the favor with an autographed soccer ball.
As his father had taught him, Jun-young is careful about his precocity and people's perceptions. "I try hard not to be singled out," he says.
His teacher Ms. Lee admits, "He knows all the answers in math, but tries not to show it. That's why the other kids like him so much." In fact, if a fight occurs, says Shin Jae-yeong, another classmate, "he just laughs it off before things boil up." But then she adds, "He's really gawky in sports, though."
Ms. Lee says, "Jun-young has an extraordinary level of self-control. When he's fooling around with the others, he looks like an ordinary 10-year-old. But when he and I talk about serious topics, he displays a kind of maturity that makes him seem like an adult in a child's body."
According to Cho Seok-hee, head of the Research Center on Gifted Education at the Korea Education Development Institute, genius is made as well as born. "Very often, geniuses will go undeveloped if they are not provided with a suitable environment to fulfill their intellectual craving," says Ms. Cho. And often behind every genius stands an ambitious parent. Leopold Mozart practically created Wolfgang Amadeus. Likewise, Yun Jong-hun, 49, began early on to raise a prodigy.
Child prodigies in Korea have suffered a rough time of late. Earlier this year reports appeared that tracked the very talented during the last four decades. Many turned out to have become troubled adults and several were found to be schizophrenic.
When Jun-young was still in his mother's womb, Mr. Yun, a teacher at a hagwon, or private educational institute, bought a stack of books and cassettes on prenatal education －－ particularly those that deal with with special education for gifted children. Jun-young began to show signs of his specialness at a mere three months.
"When I said pleasant things to Jun-young, he smiled," remembers his father. "Whereas when I commented on the negative, he frowned. I discovered that even then I could verbally communicate with him."
By the time Jun-young was a year old, he was able to understand addition and subtraction. By age 2, he could multiply. At 3, at a relative's wedding, he recited the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed.
Later that same year, Mr. Yun took his son to Shichida educational programs, which emphasize right-brain principles and creativity.
Jun-young also attended the Korean Academy of Gifted Education, a program aimed at fostering special education for children from 30 months to 12 years old, founded by Ms. Cho in 1989. Here, Jun-young's IQ was tested for the first time and the result was "nonmeasurable," because his was more than 156. Jun-young finished his courses at the institute in 15 months and learned everything from mathematics and thinking faculties, to creativity.
One day when Jun-young was 4, his father brought home math textbooks for grades 1 and 2. By the end of the day, Jun-young could do every problem in the books. The following year, he did the same with middle school math textbooks.
"He just had an incredibly natural knack for math," Mr. Yun says. Jun-young attended preschool for emotional development and peer relationships at the age of a 5 year earlier than his peers, while in the following year he was taught at home by his father before entering elementary school. Jun-young learned high school math at home, which enabled the youngster to master calculus and probability by age 6.
When Jun-young first enrolled in elementary school he was restless and bored. "All the subjects were really easy for me," he says. Some kids found him strange and kept their distance. When his father learned this, he drilled the boy to never boast in front of his friends.
"It is my biggest concern for my son that he be able to associate freely and naturally with his peers," says Mr. Yun.
Mr. Yun also researched case studies of Korean and foreign child prodigies who have gone on to fail in life. The senior Yun wants his son to avoid that fate. So Jun-young often asked goofy questions and acted as if he didn't know many things.
"I always taught my son that if you act smart in front of others, you will become a wangta [an ostracized loner]. So I want him to be careful at all times." In order to teach him sports, Mr. Yun took his son to parks to kick footballs around but realized Jun-young's flair lay elsewhere.
In the first grade, Jun-young wanted to learn computer skills. His father, who was a novice when it came to the cyber world, enrolled in Kyungwon University, a two-year vocational college, in order to learn computer science. Mr. Yun says, "Every day, I came home after work and college and sat in front of the computer to teach my son what I learned."
In a short time, Jun-young was able to learn database management, how to search the Internet and about simple programming.
"I believe that my son can contribute to the future of our nation through his special skills," says Mr. Yun. His wife, Seo En-il is happy to support him in developing Jun-young to his fullest potential. His teacher Ms. Lee says, "His father has great expectations for his child."
In 2000, Mensa Korea decided to admit youngsters with exceptional intelligence, and after a series of tests, which certified his IQ to be over 156, Jun-young became the youngest member to join in Korea.
Currently there are 30 elementary schoolers who are Mensa Korea members. The youngsters meet once a month to study science, chess and mathematics in lecture classes by other members of Mensa.
Lee Myung-soo, a teacher who lectures Mensa children says, "Unlike overprotective mothers in Korea, in Jun-young's case, his father is the one who takes an active interest his son's development."
Ah, Mr. Yun, the brains behind this little boy's big brain. Not surprisingly, the senior Yun has the next few years mapped out for his son. After elementary school, Jun-young will attend Harvard －－ that university's special education program for child prodigies.
All this fine with Jun-young, but first he wants to master computer language. Sitting in front of a computer －－ but not playing computer games －－ he says, "My big passion is artificial intelligence. You know, creating something like animal terminators."
Ah. Big animal, big brain.
by Choi Jie-ho