Exploring the basis for knowledge in TOK class at Northbridge-Exploring the basis for knowledge in TOK class at Northbridge-O_Connell Donal
Donal O'Connell
19 October, 2022

Exploring the basis for knowledge in TOK class at Northbridge

Exploring the basis for knowledge in TOK class at Northbridge-Exploring the basis for knowledge in TOK class at Northbridge-TOK_Northbridge
Exploring the basis for knowledge in TOK class at Northbridge
Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a required class for all students wishing to complete the International Baccalaureate Programme Diploma, which is what most students graduate with at Northbridge International School Cambodia. It is often described as a class that asks the students to examine the basis for knowledge, in other words, how do we know that we know something?

Grade 11 and Grade 12 students take this class over the course of both DP years.  TOK has two summative assessments: the TOK Exhibition and the TOK Essay.  Grade 12 students completed their TOK Exhibition already and shared their learnings with the NISC learning community, and their parents, on September 15th.  The TOK Exhibition task requires that they tie three items from their own lives to one of 35 prompts provided by the IB.  These prompts require the students engage with questions such as, “Is bias inevitable in the production of knowledge? and “Is there some knowledge that should not be pursued on ethical grounds?”.  Students often find the task of tackling such open-ended and abstract questions intimidating.  With time and practice they rise to the task and can sometimes surprise themselves, and their teachers, with the keen insights they uncover as they discuss how knowledge functions in the real world. 


The Grade 12 students are now tackling the TOK Essay, the second summative assessment required for successful completion of the course.  I personally consider this the most challenging intellectual endeavor the students undertake in secondary school.  This is because of the abstract nature of the thinking required in addition to the examples and argumentation necessary to do well.  As an example, one Prescribed Title (PT) this year centers around a quote from the 20th century polymath Bertrand Russell.  It reads: Do you agree that it is "astonishing that so little knowledge can give us so much power" (Bertrand Russell)? Discuss with reference to the natural sciences and one other area of knowledge.  An area of knowledge can be thought of as a school subject, for our purposes.  To tackle this essay effectively students will have to effectively explore the relationship between knowledge and power; this is no easy feat.  Even seasoned TOK teachers I have talked to are wary of wading into such deep and swirling waters. 


Those tasks are completed in 12th grade after the students establish a foundation of “TOK thinking” during 11th grade.  This involves noticing the knowledge that surrounds us all on a daily basis that often goes unnoticed.  One task to encourage this kind of thinking involves the students linking the production of an item (a shoe, for instance) to the knowledge required to produce that item (how to tan leather for the shoe, for example).  After a cautious start the students gradually grow to enjoy the freedom to debate big ideas as well as looking at the world around them through a unique lens.  TOK might be a requirement for the DP but questioning underlying assumptions and challenging the thinking of others are important skills that are required throughout a lifetime of learning.