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For weeks, 6-year-old G. had been dreaming about starting first grade at Mada'im Alon, an ultra-Orthodox Zionist public school in Sderot.

But last week, the school informed his mother that G. had not passed the entrance exams.

About a month ago, all applicants and their parents were invited to a special workshop at the school.

"They divided the children into groups. Each group went to five classrooms, with different activities in each one," G.'s mother said.

In the first class, the children were asked to try to connect electrical wires to batteries to make light bulbs light up, she said.

"I don't get it - they expect a first-grader to understand electronics and to connect batteries to all kinds of things?" the mother said angrily.

In another workshop, the children were read a story and were asked questions. In another, the teachers evaluated children's social skills, and in another, their skills at applying stickers.

Prof. Daniel Gutwein of the University of Haifa says the selection rules that guide privatized education have also become the norm in public schools as well.

"The fact that this change has gone unrecognized allows the trend to expand without public discourse," he said.

The Education Ministry said Mada'im Alon is a specialized school and is considered a regional institution.

"With this in mind, to meet the high demand for the school, the Sderot municipality has been asked to halt the external entrance exams for the first grade and to develop an accepted alternative model.," a ministry official said.