Any move to abolish vernacular education would be a "policy nightmare" for Putrajaya and would have to extend beyond conventional Chinese or Tamil schools, according to Khairy Jamaluddin.
The former minister told a public forum last night that the opportunity to establish a single national school system had long passed, and that focus should be placed on making national schools the preferred choice for all Malaysians.
"If we want a single education system, we should have done it in 1957 or 1963, but the terms of our union allowed vernacular schools.
"Once you have allowed it, it is difficult to undo," he was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insight.
"If today, somebody said 'We have one single education system', which means no more Chinese, Tamil schools, another person will come and say 'How about your madrasah and sekolah pondok (private Islamic schools)? You have to get rid of them, too'.
"What about parents who send their kids to international and private schools?"
Khairy was responding to a question from an audience member at the forum on whether vernacular schools should be maintained.
"It (abolishment) is a policy nightmare, not to mention a nightmare in terms of politics. I believe it is a non-starter," said the former Umno Youth chief.
The Beyond 2020, Fresh Views, New Visions talk also featured Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong and Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar.
According to TMI, Liew (photo) said the distrust of vernacular schools could be overcome if Malaysians embraced all the major tongues as the nation's cultural heritage.
Liew, the DAP political education bureau director, said that teaching languages other than Bahasa Malaysia and English could make national schools more appealing to proponents of vernacular schools.
Contrary to public perception, he added, some Chinese-type national schools are starting to resemble national schools, with Chinese pupils being outnumbered by those from other communities.
"The point is: once we no longer fear each other’s language, once we no longer fear each other, but we see that these languages are a heritage of our nation, when we can speak multiple languages, the question of single schools won’t arise," he said.
Critics of vernacular schools often claim that its existence is a barrier to national unity, including with the latest khat controversy.