NIS Stories

What Is Knowledge?

A female student explains to another female student about her her Theory of Knowledge entry into the TOK exhibit.

"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand" - Frank Herbert (Quotes from Famous People)

This quote is from Frank Herbert, best known for his science fiction novel "Dune". Herbert has defined knowledge in this quote, but is this correct?

Knowledge is a complex concept that is hard to comprehend, define, and communicate. In our TOK class, we ask about our perception of the world that we have accepted. This stretches our understanding and pushes us to become critical and creative thinkers.


What is TOK?

The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course is a component of the IBDP Core, making this course mandatory for IBDP students. TOK is a mixture of all the subjects, and it is very similar to a philosophy course; this class invites students to view the world from a different perspective. In the course, there are six Big Questions:

  • What is the Theory of Knowledge, and why do we study it?
  • How does our knowledge about the world inform the way we construct our values?
  • How is our understanding of the world influenced by the way knowledge is communicated?
  • How do our perspectives and biases shape our knowledge of the world?
  • How is new knowledge about the world created?
  • How do we become discerning knowers?

The course is structured around these six questions, and through discussions as a whole class and in smaller groups, students can be introduced to new thinkers and ideas.

Students are assessed through an exhibition and a 1,600-word essay to solidify the concepts learned throughout the course. Both assessments challenge students’ critical thinking skills and look for how the concepts from TOK can be applied to real-world situations.


Why do we study TOK?

The obvious reason is that TOK is an integral part of the IBDP Curriculum, but there are many benefits outside of achieving the IBDP Certificate. 

While there are many things that students learn within the school, we often do not question the content taught. On the other hand, TOK welcomes new and creative thoughts and encourages students to question what is taught. Students develop the skill of being strong and active thinkers, inside and outside of the classroom. 

Another skill that students learn is to find biases within the media. There is so much information out there that it is hard to organize, much less analyze every single piece. By taking TOK, it becomes easier to see the biases and the hidden intent behind media messages. For example, in class, students go as far as to analyze labels on drinks to see the aim and the bias that is present.

Thirdly, there are no correct answers in TOK, so students learn to accept others’ opinions. Because there is no right or wrong, students will have differing thoughts, so discussions help students accept and learn to understand others. This skill is not only applicable to TOK but to other subjects and, of course, outside in the real world.

These are skills that are not easy to acquire, and it takes time and effort. Students in the IBDP program nurture these critical thinking skills, which are helpful in other areas of learning and in their future.


The Ups and Downs of Studying TOK

There are many students who struggle with TOK because it is a new way of learning and thinking. Also, the concepts that students learn in class are philosophical and often challenging to put into words. These are some of the obstacles and challenges when learning TOK. This can make TOK seem like an extremely difficult and bothersome subject.

A teacher consults with a student about her idea for her Theory of Knowledge exhibit.While these thoughts are valid, and many students likely concur, there are also rewarding moments. In TOK, many discussions allow students to express their thoughts and opinions more freely than in other subjects. These discussions help students learn about each other while often leading to interesting conclusions or even opposing thoughts. This can make school life, in general, more diverse and exciting, leading to a richer school experience.

As a student who studies TOK at NIS, I enjoy the class very much. This class gives me an opportunity to learn about subjects that I do not have the opportunity to delve into very deeply because they aren’t a part of my class load. For example, I get to learn about philosophy and history, which are subjects that I am interested in but don’t take as a part of my coursework. TOK also gives me an opportunity to apply the knowledge from school to my everyday life. It has made me think more deeply about my environment. And I’m sure the skills learned will benefit me even after I leave the classrooms of NIS.

Sources Cited:

Quotes of Famous People