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The number of 17-year-olds eligible for matriculation during the past school year rose by 1.7 percent from the previous year, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

A total of 46.1 percent of Israeli 17-year-olds were eligible for matriculation, with the most significant rise taking place among the Druze: from 39.5 percent to 48 percent.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said that "the data prove that the trend toward lower eligibility figures [in recent years] has been stemmed."

As a group, the Druze represent the smallest number of eligible students, at 2,400.

Mohana Fares, responsible for Druze education at the Education Ministry, said that during the past three years "we have identified schools that had low grades in matriculation exams, and we sent special instructors to help the principals and teachers. The message was that we cannot give up on any student."

According to the ministry, during the past school year, 79.8 percent of 17-year-olds attended 12th grade and 71.8 percent took the matriculation exams.

Despite the improvements including those within various population groups, significant gaps remain. For example, 61.8 percent of Jewish students who took the exams passed, compared with 48 percent for the Druze, 34.4 percent for the Arabs and 29.4 percent for the Bedouin.