THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE (TOK)
It is commonplace to say that the world has experienced a digital revolution and that we are now part of a global information economy. The extent and impact of the changes signalled by such grand phrases vary greatly in different parts of the world, but their implications for knowledge are profound. Reflection on such huge cultural shifts is one part of what the TOK course is about. Its context is a world immeasurably different from that inhabited by “renaissance man”. Knowledge may indeed be said to have exploded: it has not only expanded massively but also become increasingly specialised, or fragmented. At the same time, discoveries in the 20th century (quantum mechanics, chaos theory) have demonstrated that there are things that it is impossible for us to know or predict. The TOK course encourages critical thinking about knowledge itself, to try to help young people make sense of what they encounter. Its core content involves questions like these: What counts as knowledge? How does it grow? What are its limits? Who owns knowledge? What is the value of knowledge? What are the implications of having, or not having, knowledge?
The purpose of the TOK programme is to help students critically reflect on their knowledge and experience. This reflection requires a consideration of the various ways we interpret the world in culturally diverse settings. TOK is not philosophy instead it requires students to become aware of personal and ideological biases to their knowledge and to consider what responsibilities knowledge may place on the knower. The course aims to develop a concern for rigour in formulating knowledge claims, intellectual honesty and links to all subject groups in the IB Programme.
The programme considers real-life knowledge issues as they often arise in part from questions about what we know; however, it is not a series of debates about such issues. By engaging in an inter-cultural analysis of the concepts, arguments and value judgements that we use, the programme leads students to an understanding of the bases of knowledge and experience, to a recognition of subjective and ideological influences and to the development of ways of thinking based on the critical examination of evidence and rational arguments.
The course moves backwards and forwards through these three perspectives and touches on topics such as:
- Ways of Knowing: sense perception, language, emotion, intuition, reasoning, memory, faith and imagination
- Map like and story-like knowledge
- Local and global knowledge
- Constrained creativity
- Paradigm shifts
- Areas of Knowledge: Mathematics, Human Sciences, History, the Arts, Ethics, Natural Sciences, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Religious Knowledge Systems.
External assessment Part 1:
Essay on a prescribed title (maximum of 1600 words) (67%)
Each student must submit for external assessment an essay on any one of the 6 titles prescribed by the IB for each examination session.
Internal assessment Part 2:
The presentation (33%)
Students must make one or more individual and/or small group presentations to the class during the course. The maximum group size is three.
TOK and the Extended Essay
The performance of a student in both Diploma Programme requirements, Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay is determined according to the quality of the work, based on the application of the IB Diploma Programme assessment criteria and A – E grades are given.
The IB band descriptors are:
A Work of an excellent standard
B Work of a good standard
C Work of a satisfactory standard
D Work of a mediocre standard
E Work of an elementary standard
Using the two performance levels and the Diploma points matrix, a maximum of three Diploma points can be awarded for a student’s combined performance as shown in the Matrix. A student who, for example, writes a satisfactory Extended Essay and whose performance in Theory of Knowledge is judged to be good will be awarded 1 point, while a student who writes a mediocre Extended Essay and whose performance in Theory of Knowledge is judged to be excellent will be awarded 2 points. A student who fails to submit a TOK essay, or who fails to make a presentation, will be awarded N for TOK, will score no points, and will not be awarded a Diploma. Performance in either Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay of an elementary standard is a failing condition for the award of the Diploma.