A new type of exam designed to identify gifted students of Ethiopian origin is set to be used as a pilot project in four communities, as a joint operation between the Education Ministry and educational psychologist Reuven Feuerstein's Jerusalem-based International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential.

The ministry has acknowledged that the tests generally used to identify gifted children are culturally biased as they depend on the students' knowledge of Hebrew.

About 2,500 school-age children are enrolled in classes for the gifted around the country and another 6,000 students receive weekly instruction at centers for gifted children.

The approach is also being applied to candidates of Ethiopian origin in the Israel Defense Forces and at Bar-Ilan University.

The pilot project in the schools will examine the Ethiopian immigrant students' current capabilities and will emphasize identifying their scholastic potential.

This approach has been used for four years in the diagnostic testing and training of Ethiopian community soldiers who scored poorly on regular exams.

Some 1,500 soldiers have taken the exams, and the center's deputy chairman, Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein (the son of the Israel Prize-winning center's founder ) said a substantial number of them were moved to more prestigious army units as a result.

Tikva, a 21-year-old woman of Ethiopian origin who just completed her army service in the Intelligence Corps, said she learned effective study habits in the army.

"I can't believe that I would have reached the Intelligence Corps if I hadn't done the [army] course."

In the coming academic year, 18 university students of Ethiopian origin identified as having high potential will begin their studies at Bar-Ilan University.

Rabbi Feuerstein said the Education Ministry approached his center about a year ago for help in identifying the potentially gifted among Ethiopian community, adding that the failure to identify them was a huge wasted opportunity.

Through the pilot program, about 300 children in second and third grades will undergo initial testing. The capabilities of about 120 of them will then be examined in greater depth.

The plan calls for about 60 students to be placed in special programming for the gifted, including enrichment workshops and their later integration into regular classes for the gifted.

The project was expected to have already been underway, but the agreement between the ministry and Feuerstein's center has not been finalized.