The number of Israeli youngsters dropping out of school increased by 36 per cent last year, according to new official figures.
The Central Bureau of Statistics, a governmental body, said that in the 2008-2009 academic year the number of drop-outs was 40,000, compared to 29,000 in the previous 12 months.
In recent years the Education Ministry enjoyed some success in reducing drop-out rates, but experts believe that in the long-term its efforts will be come to little as disillusionment with the education system grows.
"We can see a growth in pupils feeling lower confidence towards the education system, especially in high schools," said Arie Kizel, an academic at Haifa University's Faculty of Education.
He said that the new figures also reflect a "lack of authority among teachers and parents with youngsters" and "an increase in instances where parents are busy with work and don't pay enough attention to their children".
More than a third of the dropouts were Arab, even though Arabs only account for around a quarter of school-age Israelis. Dr Kizel believes that one of the main causes for this is that there is still a culture of Arab youngsters leaving school at 14, 15 or 16 to work in their parents' business.
In the Jewish sector, there is no breakdown of which demographic group dropouts belong to. But Eli Zarkhin, head of the Israeli Association for the Immigrant Child, believes that around 40 per cent are immigrants, even though they make up only 7 per cent of school-age Jews.
"People don't go to school because they don't understand what is going on in the classroom," he said, referring to the language barrier faced by immigrant children. He criticised the lack of ulpanim in schools.
He said that economic factors also contribute to a drop-out culture among immigrants, who tend to have a lower socio-economic profile than Israeli natives.
"About one third of immigrant youngsters work to help their families and when you work in the evening it is difficult to get up the next morning for school," said Mr Zarkhin.
Dr Kizel said that the economic crisis, though less intense in Israel than in other countries, has also prompted more native-born youngsters than normal to leave school to work.
Some experts believe that drop-out rates are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems faced by Israel's education system. Yariv Feniger, a fellow of Education Policy at the Taub Centre for Social Policy Studies in Israel, said: "Formal drop-out rates tell us only about pupils who left the education system. There are many who are still enrolled in a school but rarely attend it or attend a school but rarely learn anything. This should worry us much more."
The Education Ministry did not respond to requests for a comment.