Podcast: The Public Discourse

Episode 4: Education, Technology and Community

We talk with Taban Behin, Brian Dijkema and Hoda Farahmandpour about how we should think about the nature of technology and its relationship to the education of young people. Behin is a PhD student at the University of Victoria, Dijkema is Vice-President of Cardus, and Farahmandpour is a PhD student at the University of Toronto.

Read the Transcript

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity

GEOFF CAMERON (Director, Office of Public Affairs): We are at the beginning of a school year like none other. Schools closed down in March and at-home learning took over for the rest of the last school year. Parents were confronted with the responsibility of taking over the role of teachers with support from online tools, and children are now either going back to school or continuing with remote learning. So this seems like an opportune moment to reflect on what we've learned about educating our children, the role that technology can play – as well as its limits – and the values that can guide technological choices in our school systems into the future.

So I'm really delighted to be joined on this episode of The Public Discourse by Hoda Farahmandpour, Taban Behin, and Brian Dijkema, to talk through some of these issues.

Before we start, could you each briefly introduce yourselves? Starting with Taban.

TABAN BEHIN (PhD student, University of Victoria): My name is Taban Behin, and I'm first and foremost a mother of two children who are ages eleven and nine. I'm also a PhD student in the social dimensions of health program at the University of Victoria. So in light of this, I'd like to acknowledge, with respect, the Lekwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territories the university stands; and the Songhees, Esquimalt and the WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

I also have the bounty of being part of a technology research lab based out of Vancouver. It's composed of a group of researchers who are collaborating on an emerging program that aims to examine more closely the relationship between digital tools and social transformation.

GEOFF: Wonderful. Thanks for joining of Taban. Brian, could you introduce yourself?

BRIAN DIJKEMA (Vice-President, Cardus): Thanks Geoff. I'm honoured to be here and I'm really, really grateful for the invitation and to meet with you, Taban, and Hoda as well. It's a pleasure. I'm really looking forward to this conversation.

My name is Brian Dijkema. I'm a father of four. We have twin boys who are thirteen, a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. So that's the range from Grade Three to Grade Eight. So that's my primary interest in education and in technology.

I may be a bit of an odd duck in that my own personal education involves small independent schools, large public schools, and back to small independent universities. And the same story is true for my children. My day job – the job that allows me to get paid and provides me with a great amount of satisfaction and meaning – is with a think tank called Cardus, which looks at social architecture. Our goal is to renew Canada's social architecture. By that, we mean the thick web of relationships that take place between individuals, the communities, and the vast array of institutions that we spend most of our time with.

So, typically in public debates we spend a lot of time talking about what the government should do or shouldn't do, what the market should do or shouldn't do, and often those are the two big elephants bashing around in the room. But in the meantime, everybody is trying to go to work with their families, at their church, their mosque, their synagogue, their temple; they're meeting with neighbourhood associations, their trade union, and so on, and we're interested in that part of civil society. And, particularly how education happens in those places; or doesn't. So we have an interest in the realm of education from a public policy level, but particularly in so far as how does it actually emerge and arise out of civil society, and out of communities themselves? And I think this is an excellent opportunity to talk about that and the role of technology in the midst of that. So thank you.

GEOFF: I’m so glad you could join us, Brian. Thank you. Hoda, can you introduce yourself?

HODA FARAHMANDPOUR (PhD student, University of Toronto): Sure. Thank you so much Geoff for including me.

My name is Hoda Farahmandpour. I am also a parent of two young children; an almost three and an almost six-year-old. I live in Toronto and I'm currently a PhD student at OISE which is the University of Toronto's school of education. The department that I am in is in the adult education and community development program, which is in the higher and adult education department. My current area of focus for my research is concerned with the school to work transition of young people, and in particular right now looking at the relationship and the connection between employment, young people, and community well-being. So that's what I'm looking at now.

GEOFF: Well, as the father of two young children and also someone who has been following this whole evolution in how education is being delivered and conceived of over the last six months, I'm really excited to talk to the three of you about these questions. About how the pandemic itself has helped us to think about the principles that should be guiding the way we think about education, the role that technology plays in that process, and you've all mentioned the role that the community plays and that family plays; and that's another important dimension that we want to get to today.

I wonder if we can start with you Taban. You're part of a research group that's thinking about how technology can be designed to enable populations to grow and develop. Could you point us to some of the values and principles that can guide our thinking about the use of technology in schooling?

TABAN: Sure. I think this is certainly a foundational question for which I welcome the input of others as well. There's a lot here to explore. I'll share my understanding of the terms being used; terms such as technology and schooling. And from there, I'll bring to light some fundamental principles and values related to the use of technology and schooling.

We have learned as a lab that the term technology may mean different things to different people. The concept of technology embraces far more than just gadgets; it includes simple tools, machines, techniques, systems, procedures and methods of organization as well. So as one example, technology is even as simple as writing. In fact, in reference to writing, Plato expressed his concern that it might cause human beings to lose their memory. That was one of the things that Plato was concerned about that technology.

So you could see that technology is the fruit of science. And that's where the principle of the harmony of science and religion comes into play. We recognize as a research group that science and religion are two complementary systems of knowledge that have guided humanity's development.

While we recognize that science and religion have more often than not been historically held in conflict with each other, in their truest forms, taken together, science and religion have provided the foundational principles by which individuals, communities, and institutions can organize and evolve over time. If technology is actually one of the fruits of science as we see it, it seems that it would be helpful that it is in harmony with morality or our values, which is a fruit of religion.

The other term that was used was around schooling. If we're referencing schooling, I'm assuming we're referring to like the institutionalized education of children. So at the heart of schooling, then, is education. Here's where the principle of universal education seems to be a useful one to reflect on. So simply put, I think if we agree that each individual has the potential to contribute to the generation and application of knowledge that will help to foster their well-being and advance their communities and society as a whole, then we recognize that the centrality of education in cultivating true potential is really important. Every single human being needs to partake in that.

So then the principle of universal education goes beyond just the focus on infrastructure and access to educational institutions. It would also involve ensuring that each individual is able to develop capabilities: technical, social, moral, spiritual, all sorts of capabilities that will enable them to live meaningful lives and contribute to the advancement of society.

Education grapples against being reduced to the transfer of just fragmented bits of information and facts that are simply absorbed, or techniques that are acquired with little or no understanding of the concepts and the processes underlying them. This is really, I think, one of the things that the lab is trying to explore further within the context of this principle of universal education.

GEOFF: That's very helpful. I think it expands our view of this issue that we're discussing beyond what many of us experienced as parents in the wake of the lockdown, which was the use of technology to bring the school into the home. And this was kind of how we thought of the role of technology and education, but you've given us a broader way of thinking of both what education is and what technology is that allows us to take an expanded view of this question.

Now, zeroing a bit more to the moment that we have found ourselves in. Brian, Cardus responded very quickly to this changed educational environment after the lockdown and produced a major research report on “Flexible education in an age of disruption”. And in that report, it stated that the move to remote online-based instruction revealed deeper issues that preceded the crisis. I wonder if you could talk about some of those deeper issues?

BRIAN: Yeah. Thank you Geoff. And Taban, that was perfect. I think what you're alluding to when you talk about technology being more than just gadgets, is that it's a representation of something; like a book, for instance, is a technology.

There's a sense in which technology - again bolstering Taban's point - is a manifestation of a certain moral framework in some ways. There are all kinds of studies about the way in which various religions will make use, or will not make use of certain types of technologies because they understand that it has a moral meaning.

You know the clearest example of this is the Mennonite community. I'm a Christian. I'm not a Mennonite. But the Mennonite community is part of our body of faith, and they are very serious about what seem to us to be strange things. Like, why are you so concerned about having lights in the bedroom? Which we say, "Oh. What do you mean? You got to see." They would say, "Look. No. If you have a light in the bedroom it may mean you spend more time there reading, and we no longer have the time to gather together as a family." So they understand that technology has profound moral effects. It has a way to shape who you are, and it has a way to shape communities.

One person I always like to read on this is a fellow named Jacques Ellul who's a philosopher of technology. And he has this list of 79 reasonable questions to ask about technology. One of them is: "What is it going to do to the person? What is it going to do to the community?"

I think you saw a little bit of that in the response to the shutting down of schools. There was this belief - and I don't know if it was articulated clearly or perfectly or not - but that in some sense children were a lot like the computers they were using. It was simply a matter of putting them in front of the computer, downloading the information out of the teacher's head and putting it into the child's brain. But, as Taban noted, that's not how knowledge works. Knowledge is grown in a community of practice. And that's true for religions. That's true for trades. You know, a carpenter learns by working as an apprentice. And that is more true for the sciences and our other bodies of knowledge than we might imagine. I think that's true for school as well.

And so, I would have liked to have seen more of that. I think what ended up happening was that assumption about the way that technology and education overlapped, compounded and exacerbated existing inequalities in our system. And I'll just mention a couple of them right off the hop.

The first is pure economic inequality. That is if you don't have the money for broadband that allows you to have Zoom calls like we're having right now, if you don't have a quiet room, to have broadband, and to be able to sit in a room, and quietly learn your mathematics, your trade, or whatever you're learning, you would be a step back. You had those who perhaps couldn't afford a computer. There's quite a bit of evidence to say that those who are on the lower end of the economic scale had extreme troubles. And I don't think that's a problem that’s necessarily going to be solved by putting a computer in everyone's hand.

The other thing to note is that those moral assumptions about the structures of our gaining knowledge - which is to some extent definition of technology - are also present in the policy structures that enable us to do education together. And so our assumption of universal education has in many ways become equated just with the ability to build a school. But we've lost a sense in which education is a multi-faceted thing that requires communities that enable and support that other thing.

And so, I'd love to talk more about the nature of how learning and knowledge are actually developed in a community of practice.

GEOFF: Thanks Brian. I actually want to carry on from there in my question to Hoda. You talked about the ways in which the underlying assumption of this move to online education was that a teacher could be simply placed in the home via a screen and the instruction could continue uninterrupted. But I think as any parent or teacher knew before, and has also learned since, online instruction requires a lot of support from parents or grandparents or other volunteers.

So Hoda, to the extent that technology, and this particular kind of technology, is used in education, how does the social environment of students come to influence the learning process itself? It's something that Brian reflected on a bit, but I wonder if you could kind of continue along that line.

HODA: Yeah. If we think of an education, as Taban has noted, as one in which individuals are becoming more and more capable of living meaningful lives - lives that are not only enabling themselves to become enriched and developed as individuals but that the social environment around them is also becoming enriched. To do that one needs to be capable of something. To be able to act meaningfully on the world requires more than just information. It requires more than just knowledge. It also requires certain attitudes that we learn when we're interacting with one another. It requires spiritual qualities that manifest themselves and express themselves in the way that we speak and the way that we relate to one another. It requires skills. It does require information and knowledge too. I think all of those things together allow us to be capable of consulting, or capable of (for example) flying an airplane. Really, anything that we can think of doing that requires capacity requires all of these things. And when we look at it that way, it becomes very hard to reduce that process to just an online exchange between a teacher and a student.

Of course, it's not impossible to see how technology could be used, because I think another challenge is when we too easily equate that process of education to the built environment, and most specifically, the physical school. So, once we weren't able to walk into a physical school, our whole process of education was thrown upside-down. But that's kind of interesting. Is education so closely connected to a built environment? To a school? To a physical place? And I think in that way, something that helps me is being able to distill some of the essential elements of the process of education.

One thing that comes to mind is, well, there's a student, there's the individual, there's the curriculum – the content that that individual is interacting with and then trying to apply to the world around them – and there's the instructor, the teacher. And what is the relationship between these three elements? What would be a healthy relationship between them? If we're focused on the relationship between those three essential elements of the process of education then maybe we could ask if that process could continue in other settings? In a park, or online, or in a building when it's safer to go inside to do so.

So then when we think of this - the social environment, Geoff, that you were describing that mediates all of that - I think one thing that I think everybody noticed is how much communities and families can play a more meaningful role. I think I've never collaborated so much with my daughter's teacher as I have through the months of March to June. And that's kind of interesting. Although we kind of felt that it was in some ways very much… I don't want to use the word burden, but it put quite a pressure on caregivers and the family unit. I think it also opened up possibilities for us to reimagine the relationship between a school and a family, or a school and a community, and what possibilities can exist for families to be in a conversation with their teachers about the education of their children, and contribute to the way in which they can.

GEOFF: So we've talked at this point about the role that the community plays, the institutions of schools and libraries, the built environment. To some extent, we discussed public policy. But I want to come now to focus in a bit more to the individual.

Taban, your own research has been focused on technology and consciousness among those in the early years; with a particular focus on indigenous populations. It's a very interesting area of research. I wondered if you could talk about how technology shapes consciousness, and how that relates to the educational process. And more specifically, to the extent that you can say, what issues come to light for Indigenous youth in particular and their relationship with technology?

TABAN: Actually, I think I'm as keen as you are to better understand how technology shapes consciousness. It's the focus of my research and dissertation and I'm just beginning to embark on that journey.

I have just a little bit of experience from living for nine years - I live in Snuneymuxw territory, which is just in the middle of Vancouver Island in the city called Nanaimo. So I've been able to form and build relationships there as I raise my children and strive to contribute to community life among the families of Indigenous heritage.

The Indigenous communities here are from all over Vancouver Island. So there's a number of different Indigenous communities that are represented here in Snuneymuxw territory. These are just some initial thoughts that have come from my engagement in the community, and we've also done some very simple community-based action research initiatives as part of the lab that I mentioned.

For one thing, I found that the concept of consciousness actually holds a certain meaning here. It seems that consciousness is not only just knowledge of oneself and what leads to our progress, and our regress; it's also not just a general perception of oneself in relation to others, which we sometimes talk about when we refer to consciousness. But here, there's sort of an acute awareness of the many relationships that are part of the fabric of community life. And that often extends beyond just the nuclear and extended family. So, families are very interrelated, and the community plays a very big part. I'm very lucky to be accepted in such a community.

So if, in that context, we look at technologies that have been wholeheartedly embraced for the past decade or so by many cultures, including the ones I live among – so, digital tools like smartphones, and tablets, and laptops, the things that we were referring to earlier… and even with their corresponding applications because it's also hardware and software tools — we must pause and reflect on the fact that their features have by and large been designed with the individual adult consumer in mind. And that's something that's very important, each one of those aspects.

So, for instance, if you take a smartphone, which a vast majority of young people I know carry and use, this device was not designed for educational purposes. It was designed for business purposes. And oftentimes distraction and addiction are major components and the means for ensuring their viability in the technology market. Even while it helps young people to stay connected with one another, the elements of distraction and addiction I refer to are very difficult to combat. If you think about, for instance, social media apps with the corresponding effects of depression and anxiety and other outcomes that a fair bit of research has already been carried out and has shown that these are some of the things that a lot of young people are dealing with. And more than ever in my conversations with young people, and with the pandemic really forcing many young people into further isolation, I found that in those conversations they long to undo habits related to social media addiction. It wasn't something that came up pre-pandemic as frequently as it has more recently.

So with that backdrop, we've experienced a period where our systems of education have had to rely heavily on digital tools. So that period of March 'til June, everyone had to move their education online. And we had to rely on these digital tools and the internet to educate the masses of young people.

I think this is really the challenge that we're facing as a society then. If we are relying more heavily on these technologies, how are we actually considering those technologies and their use, and thinking about the development of different forms of technologies that will actually help with our education?

What my research intends to focus on is a grassroots endeavour to walk alongside a community as its members consider and reconsider the historical wealth of their own technologies. This means to consult about the integration of current technologies into their own education, and even open doors to developing new tools and methods that promote the values they wish to perpetuate. I think that's in line with ultimately thinking that the capacity for technological assessment, innovation, and adaptation, must be fostered within a people themselves, and really needs to be given ownership at that level.

BRIAN: Taban, you're like a sister on the other side of the country! I'm sitting here just saying in my heart, "Oh yes, keep going!" Just on that very last point you make… One of the challenges, I think, with our current education approach - which is quite frankly unlike education in many other places around the world - is that when we think of community and education, we only think about the State.

I think that there are countless other examples in which the one political community actually provides space, ground, funding, and structures for other communities within that broader political community, to educate their children in particular ways, to explore some of those things that Taban noted: different ways of educating, and different ways of using technology.

A case in point is the Netherlands, which is where my mother is from. In the Netherlands, if you are a Christian, or you're Baha'i, or if you are interested in Montessori, or Waldorf, or if you want to explore outdoor education… if you have a different vision for education that you think would be good and you have a community of neighbours and people with you, the State will provide support for you.

There are still, of course, appropriate regulations and, you know, people need to read and write. But the diversity and plurality are far, far greater than it is in Canada. And I think technology is one of those things. There are increasingly people who are realizing what Taban has just noted. That the technologies that are given to us, and that often are given to those big communities that can make big purchasing decisions; so that's the government. Places like Google and so on.

An article that we published in Comment is called “Habits of mind and the nature of distraction.” The author Alan Jacobs cites somebody who says that we live in an ecosystem of disruptive attention. Maybe we want to think about other types of ecosystems in which we want to work? Perhaps we want to spend more time outdoors - as in my children's school, we spend a lot of time outside observing nature. Maybe we want to spend more time in quiet contemplation. Maybe, you know, sports. You can name it. There are a variety and diversity of communities within this country, and I think it's time for us to allow those communities to bloom and educate because I think the current structure – and this is particularly true for Indigenous communities – it shunts and asks people to put aside those parts of their identity as they enter this school where they receive information and then leave like they are themselves a computer chip you could put a USB in. And I just don't think that's in line with the way humans actually are.

GEOFF: Yeah. Brian, I wonder if we could just follow up on this a bit further. You mentioned at the beginning that you send your children to independent schools that you were just describing a diverse ecosystem of schooling that can be reflective of the many different kinds of communities that exist in Canada. And just referring back to Taban's observation that technologies are tools that become inscribed with values - not to put words in your mouth Taban but this is what I understood - they become tools that are inscribed with values and then in turn propagate those values. And it may be that schools that are independent of the public system, especially that are trying to articulate a set of values or world view, may be more conscious of the role that technology plays, or the values that it can carry.

And so, I wanted to ask you what you think the public schooling system could learn from the technological choices being made in independent schools, or in home-school environments?

BRIAN: That's a good question. I think they could learn just by the very existence of it; that a school that is so-called “private” now, is actually public. It is part of the public. I'm a citizen. My children are citizens. They contribute to the public good. Our studies have shown that independent school graduates contribute much more in terms of volunteering charities contributing to the communities than the typical public school. And I think one of the reasons for that is they understand what it means to be part of a community that has certain commitments that it holds together.

So, with regard to how that works itself out technologically, probably the best place to start is actually - this is going to sound very technical - but just getting outside. I think there's room for us to learn to observe that which is beyond our heads. There's a really great book by a fellow named Matthew Crawford who talks about what does it mean to become an individual? And he says you actually have to have an encounter with something that is beyond your head. And I think the ability for children to spend time out of doors observing - things that quite frankly other communities, including the Indigenous community, does a lot better - would be a place to start.

GEOFF: Very good. Thank you Brian. Hoda I want to now turn to you to look back at the role that community plays. Just building on these observations about how schooling can become reflective of the community. You know the role that devices have played - screens, phones, computers, as we've all observed in the course of this conversation - has generally conduced to greater isolation. It's been associated with a rise in depression and in poor mental health outcomes for young people.

So we now live in a time where we're having this discussion about how schooling could be delivered using devices and screens. Parents, and families, and communities play an important mediating role or countervailing role in the lives of children. Often, you know as parents, one of the main discussions we're having is how much screen time our children should have. How much is healthy?

So maybe the question that I want to ask you is when we're considering how much schooling should be done online, what is the role of parents, and families, and communities, in helping education to remain embedded in society, embedded in a community, rather than just another thing that happens on a screen online?

HODA: Yeah. That's a really helpful question to think about. And I think just hearing all of your reflections and comments have shaped what I think maybe communities, and families, and parents can do.

Not to sound very bleak, because I think also when we talk about technology, young people, education, there is also a little bit of a tendency to describe worst-case scenarios. So, I don't want to feed into that conversation. But then at the same time I also feel that with the pandemic and us as families, and as communities, experiencing this thing called "school", or this aspect of education online, it just seems that increasingly so much of what we need as human beings, and what we traditionally would have gotten by being in the company of others, we seem to be substituting for our online interactions.

I think at the end of the day, what happens online is the numbing of thought and the ability to be able to think. So then how much I think parents, and families, and communities can play a role when it comes to just having meaningful conversations with one another, with our children, where we're actually encouraging thought; thoughtful reflection, articulation of thought, the sharing of ideas, the exploration of a certain idea, an experience. Because so much of what is going on in our own minds and in the mind of a young person is increasingly being filled with what they're being exposed to online.

So if you could, even for a split second, just for the sake of an example, quantify thought. And say, okay, if there are a hundred thoughts in my head, what percentage of them is coming from all of these outlets? And what are the moral underpinnings of what is being said? What is the view of the individual? What is the view of society? What is the view of the community? And let's say that is now forming 70 percent of my thought. So, in our conversations, in our interactions with others, can that become a little bit less? You know? Can it be 60 percent? 50 percent? Because I think there's a reality to it.

Sometimes when I put my daughter to sleep - and this might end up becoming a reflection of my bad parenting, but I'm going to give the example anyway. She's lying there. And she's just so thoughtful, she's just lying there so thoughtfully. She's not yet asleep. And I ask her, I'm like, "What are you thinking about Lua?" And you know, sometimes she says really beautiful, meaningful things. And other times, she says, "You know, I'm just, I'm thinking about Octonauts." And I'm like, "Octonauts?" It never even occurred to me that the TV show she watched this afternoon is in her thoughts, you know? And it's the thought that's being replayed. And what effect does that have if increasingly what my child is interacting with is in that category of content.

It's something that as a parent we wish to not see the effects of - because it can feel quite overwhelming. The reality is that technology is so embedded in our own lives and the lives of our children that we don't want to feel despair in the situation at hand. We want, on the contrary, to be hopeful, and to be empowered to take steps. And so maybe one of those first steps that we can take, of course, conversation, consultation with our families, with those that we’re closest with, acting with, will always allow us to see what our next steps are together. But also, we don't need to feel like we all need to be certified educators to be able to counteract this tendency. Everything around us is more and more being embedded online, for example, in our human interactions, and in our communities, and in our wider society, our cities. Maybe one of those first steps that we can begin to take is meaningful conversations with one another that are allowing us to explore ideas that extend beyond Octonauts. And (laughs), Paw Patrol. You know, if we're thinking of a five/six-year-old.

GEOFF: Well this has felt like one of those meaningful conversations to me. I wonder if any of you would like to offer any final closing comments. Brian, I saw your hand up.

BRIAN: Yeah. I just… Hoda, again, I feel like you're a sister. I'm listening to you and I'm saying "Yes!" Geoff, I'm just so grateful for this conversation, and to meet Taban and Hoda. I think this is one thing that’s to be highly controversial in our public setting. What Hoda just described is the types of habits that make up and shape the character. You become the thing you think about when you're thinking about nothing else. And if it's Octonauts - and this is nothing against Octonauts.

HODA: Nothing.

BRIAN: Nope. I feel the same way. I'm totally with you on that type of thing. But what if instead… We do that. We engage that show. It's this time, I want my screen time. It's like time to watch something on the screen. Or in the school, "We're going to do this now." And that becomes… That shapes your person.

We have the deep, deep desire for our hearts to be in… And not everyone, there are atheists, and I would like to give them freedom as well, but human beings are spiritual. And whether you're Baha'i, or Muslim, or Jewish, every one of those traditions, Christian, have this tradition of habits of prayer, habits of mind, you know, being mindful, or patient, or reflecting, and that makes us human beings too. Makes us the type of human beings who can engage with our neighbours and disagree with one another in the political sphere, and with charity, and with justice.

And yet when it comes to our education, you know, in the system in which we spend billions of dollars, and that we spend much of our children's lives – it's absent. Even the thinking of how does one shape a child's spiritual character is absent.

And so I keep thinking to myself, how does one address that and fill that? Well, I wouldn't want the State doing it. Again, it's one of those things, I don't want the State telling people to pray the Lord's Prayer. I think it's wrong. It's not the way religion has to be. It can only be proposed, it can't be imposed. People have to embrace it. But I do find that worrying that we are unwilling to, you know, even with Indigenous communities and what have you, we begin to worry about any sort of thing that may be beyond this sort of technical knowledge transfer. And I think that's a loss for our society and I think it's a loss for our children. And you know it's a long way from talking about Octonauts, but I think it just highlights the fact that there's that need for depth and meaning that our schools are thus far not capable of providing.

HODA: Yeah. Brian I agree because… Is it okay Geoff if I chime in? Because it's one thing to see religion as practice. And so then we get into… We can recognize that that is quite diverse and we're not able to impose one particular practice on another.

The example you gave that you wouldn't want actually everyone to have to say, you know, a prayer that they don't… It's not really a true reflection of what their heart and soul is thinking. But when we think of religion - and this is tying back into Taban's earlier point - as a system of knowledge, well, what kind of knowledge can religion provide us?

Part of what it helps us do is understand human nature. Like, who are we as human beings? When we say that human beings are resilient, well, where does that come from? How could it be that we could recognize so many powers that come from the human spirit, but yet fail to connect it to the very soul that's giving that human spirit those spiritual powers; powers of resilience, powers of compassion, power of love.

And so, I think with education, it's particularly lamentable because when we're not able to recognize the spiritual dimension, the spiritual nature of a human being. Then the practice of education, which is to educate the human being, just misses a whole dimension of what can be nurtured within an individual to make them so much more capable of contributing to an environment in which all of us could prosper.

So even if we just set aside that conversation for a bit and say, okay, no, we're not talking about religious practice; practices that, you know, that are rooted in the diversity which is Canada. Let's actually just look at the young person who we’re saying that we hope is becoming educated. Well, what kind of education is suitable for a human being that is not only a social being, not only a physical being but also a spiritual being? What kind of effect would it have on the way that we conceptualize education?

GEOFF: Thanks Hoda. Taban do you have any closing reflections to share?

TABAN: No. Just simply an acknowledgement of what we both have mentioned. Just how much I appreciated hearing from both of you, and really, you do feel like a brother Brian.

HODA: Yes, very much.

TABAN: So thank you so much. It's been such a joy to get to hear from your thoughts and your exploration.

HODA: Yep. Also.

GEOFF: Well thanks, all three of you, for participating in this conversation today. It's been illuminating and enlightening and I hope you'll convey my gratitude to your families and children as well, who I know are around even though we can't see them behind you right now.

HODA: Thank you for having us.

BRIAN: Thank you Geoff. It's an honour.

TABAN: Thank you. Thank you.

GEOFF: Thanks.