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What is the Theory of Knowledge?

Bevan Graham
Bevan Graham (3 posts) Head of Secondary View Profile

The ways in which students become responsible for their own learning and to be independent thinkers is a key feature both of the IB Diploma Programme and also of the approach to teaching and learning adopted by NAIS. Underpinning the programme is the Theory of Knowledge component that sits alongside the Extended Essay and the CAS element and is a core requirement for passing the course.

Therefore, it was a hugely proud moment this week, to see our Year 13s reach an important milestone in arriving at the end of their Theory of Knowledge Journey. But what is Theory of Knowledge and why is it regarded as the ‘keystone’ of the programme?

The IB Diploma is a cutting-edge curriculum, that equips students with essential 21st Century skills such as critical thinking and creativity. That’s where Theory of Knowledge takes centre stage. A fundamental part of a holistic education, the Theory of Knowledge course supports and is supported by the academic subjects, fosters international-mindedness and enables students to cultivate a sense of identity.


Therefore, Theory of Knowledge is concerned with understanding what it means to “know”. Rather than study a particular subject, Theory of Knowledge looks to consider conceptual ideas about how we learn and how to apply critical reflection to real-world scenarios.  Therefore, it is both theoretical and practical. A central aspect of the Theory of Knowledge course is the consideration of valid and critical justifications. As such, reflecting on concepts that support critical analysis enables students to undertake a thoughtful inquiry into the nature of knowledge.

Y13 TOK blog
One considerable advantage of studying the IB Diploma is that it excellently prepares students for study at university and beyond.

Throughout the Theory of Knowledge journey, NAIS students made connections between the construction of knowledge, academic disciplines and real-world problems. They also developed an awareness of how communities develop knowledge. Lastly, our students emerged from the Theory of Knowledge experience with an increased awareness of personal ideological assumptions and how to critically appraise them.  In a world full of doubt and uncertainty, these are vital skills to have.


The NAIS Year 13’s Theory of knowledge process has been a rewarding journey of discovery and reflection. In December students demonstrated their critical thinking when they delivered the Theory of Knowledge presentations to their peers and mentors, linking knowledge questions to a range of compelling real-life situations.  Students have to write their own investigations titles such as:


  • To what extent are oral traditions reliable in preserving cultural heritage in indigenous knowledge systems? 
  • To what extent does the reliability of authority over-rule empirical knowledge in justifying knowledge? 

The Theory of Knowledge essay requires students to undertake a formal academic critical exploration of one of six prescribed titles. Our students worked extremely well through these tricky propositions in crafting well-argued and expressed essays.  We are really impressed by the perseverance and resilience of these young people.


While the Theory of Knowledge course contributes to the overall International Baccalaureate Diploma score, it is worth much more than points alone; the transferable skills acquired are embedded in all subjects and the knowledge and skills gained through our approach at NAIS helps to improve skills and understanding across the board.  That is why it is a great component to teach and to learn.


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