The education of Protestant and Catholics in separate schools in Northern Ireland is a benign form of apartheid, Stormont's First Minister has said.
Religious segregation at universities would be considered absurd so why should it continue to be tolerated at primary and secondary school level, Peter Robinson added.
While the duplication of services meant wasted money, the DUP leader also questioned the morality of the system.
Mr Robinson has recommended that a commission is set up to examine a way of bringing about integration.
"We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately," he said.
In a speech, the First Minister called for change to a set up which currently sees the majority of Protestants educated in the state system with Catholics attending government-funded schools run by the Catholic church. While specially established integrated schools continue to attract pupils, the sector is dwarfed in size compared to the other two traditional systems.
"I believe that future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long," he said in an address to his former council in Castlereagh. "The reality is that our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society.
"Who among us would think it acceptable that a state or nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools? Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.
"As a society and administration we are not mere onlookers of this; we are participants and continue to fund schools on this basis. And then we are surprised that we continue to have a divided society.
"The limited number of integrated schools in Northern Ireland do offer a choice but more often than not they join in the competition for funds against the other two main education sectors and in truth will never create the critical mass needed to make a real difference. "