The building of new schools should be a priority despite impending government cuts, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said.
The Sinn Fein minister made her call as she attended the official opening of the new St Mary's Primary School, Portglenone, in Co Antrim.
Ms Ruane said work was needed to upgrade facilities or replace outdated buildings at a string of locations and she argued for continued investment in education.
"I have visited many schools across the north and am acutely aware that much work still remains to be done across the schools' estate to improve the accommodation in which our young people are being educated," said the minister.
"There can be no doubt that we are in a very difficult financial climate and I, along with my Executive colleagues, will face difficult decisions over the coming months and years.
"My priority will be to protect front line services as far as possible and to continue on with the schools modernisation programme in a climate where we do not know what resources will be in coming years.
"Rest assured that I will continue to press the case for the much needed capital investment to address the problems faced from the historic underinvestment in the schools estate."
Ms Ruane welcomed the opening of the Co Antrim school.
"I cut the sod for the new school building in June 2009 and it is wonderful to be here to close the circle and open these impressive premises," she said.
"Costing around £3.5million, the new building will meet the needs of over 200 pupils and will provide them with appropriate, modern accommodation which will enhance their learning experience. This is a great day for the staff, pupils, parents and community, and is something to really celebrate."