The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme: What is Theory of Knowledge?
Theory of Knowledge, or ToK, is one of the core elements of the IB Diploma and it is a class all IB Diploma students follow. In this course they explore the questions “What is knowledge?”, “How do we know?” and “What does this mean in different cultures or contexts?”.
There’s really nothing complicated, nor mysterious, about Theory of Knowledge (ToK). It is a very straightforward part of all IB Diploma Programme (DP) learning. ToK is about how we make knowledge, it underpins all other subjects in the DP, and there’s ToK everywhere we look:
A painting by Rothko sells for US$40m at Christie’s in New York, whilst a student in a KIS International School art class produces a very similar piece.
A DP student chooses a particular university in preference to another because it ‘feels right’ to them.
KIS Basketball team huddles for team spirit before playing.
This list could go on indefinitely, in each case a way of knowing about the world is being used to produce specific knowledge. In most DP subjects students learn knowledge that has already been produced, in ToK students learn how that knowledge is produced. A few examples:
In Biology students will learn theories of evolution, in ToK they will learn why and how theories of evolution were developed.
In Maths students will learn methods for calculating statistics and probability, In ToK they will learn why we often misinterpret probability.
In Environmental Systems and Societies students will learn the advantages and disadvantages of mitigating climate change. In ToK they will learn why climate change scientists may disagree on those advantages and disadvantages.
So, why is ToK important ?
There are a number of reasons why ToK is a compulsory core of the IB Diploma. If we understand how knowledge is constructed then we have a better understanding of how and why knowledge changes. This understanding is essential for development and positive progress in personal, social and academic spheres.