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Israeli Arab leaders blamed the low number of students from their community who reached matriculation on "years of discrimination," after a report stated Thursday that only 31.94 percent of the students did so.

"The continued deterioration in Arab educational achievements is the direct result of many years of discrimination and the absence of a serious Education Ministry program to close the gaps," the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee relayed Thursday.

The Education Ministry report said that as opposed to the lower Arab figure, 59.7 percent of Jewish students (excluding the ultra-Orthodox) received their matriculation certificate.

The head of the committee's department for education, Ataf Mouadi, said the sad state of Israeli Arab education was no surprise.

"When the Arab education system is missing about 80,000 hours, more than 9,000 classrooms... and when there is no real news in the Education Ministry budget for the next two years, it is no wonder that the gaps are perpetuated, and even are growing," he said.

The report also stated that only 44 percent of Israeli high school students received sufficient marks on their examinations to qualify for a matriculation certificate (bagrut) in 2008.

Of the 116,415 students represented in the report, 79.2 percent reached the 12th grade and 72 percent completed their final exams. The figures marked a near five percent drop since 2004.

The Education Ministry has attributed the drop in general eligibility rates to natural population growth in communities that are not affiliated with state-provided education, such as the ultra-Orthodox sector and Arab residents of East Jerusalem.