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Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge, or ToK, is a key part of IB programme. At first glance, it can appear confusing but - part psychology, part philosophy, and part self-awareness – it is a fascinating part of the diploma and equips students with valuable skills they will use throughout their lives.

Each subject studied as part of the diploma, such as Mathematics, Languages, English and Sciences, require students to draw connections to the skills they learn in Theory of Knowledge. By introducing girls to use different types of ‘knowing’, ToK helps them to form better support for their arguments and to better articulate the differences between arguments that use varying justifications for their conclusions.

Above all, Theory of Knowledge promotes critical thinking. Universities are always looking for candidates who can employ critical thinking in favour of those who have simply amassed a lot of knowledge. At Bedford Girls’ School, we include Thinking Skills lessons in our curriculum encouraging pupils to develop critical thinking from Year 3 and beyond. We are, therefore, ideally placed to support the further development of such an approach to girls taking IB in the Sixth Form.

Theory of Knowledge Example Activity

Students are provided with a reconstructed automobile accident scene, replete with a map showing the locations of the two cars involved as well as the location of all the witnesses at the time of the crash. Students explore the statements of different witnesses, such as school children on a playground and business people in their cars, taking into account the ‘ways of knowing’ that each witness uses to support his or her statement.

In general, the children's statements focus on the physical act of the two cars colliding, whereas the business people tend to frame their statements in terms of their prejudices about race or gender, or in terms of the effect of the accident on their busy schedules. Alternatively, a blind witness may provide crucial but non-visual evidence. Students also generally explore the statements of the two motorists, one of whom is embarrassed and accepts responsibility even when her fault is unclear.

The goal of the activity is to show students the difficulty in reconstructing the ‘truth’ of what happened. Instead of thinking of one single ‘truth’, students learn to see each statement as a product of the ‘way of knowing’ that produced it. In other words, students learn to seek out what type of evidence is being used or favored, and then they can make critical distinctions among various viewpoints about their reliability for different purposes (such as a Policeman making a decision about who’s responsible for the accident or one of the motorists deciding whether or not to sue the other).