Knowledge is the raw material of the TOK course. It is important that students and teachers have a clear idea of what might be meant by the term “knowledge”, however, this is not such a simple matter. Thinkers have wrestled with the problem of a simple definition of knowledge since before the time of Plato, without substantial consensus. How can we expect students to be able to tackle this question satisfactorily?
TOK is not intended to be a course in philosophy. While there might be a certain degree of overlap in the terms that are used, the questions that are asked, or the tools that are applied to answer these questions, the approach is really quite different. It is not a course of abstract analysis of concepts. TOK is designed to apply a set of conceptual tools to concrete situations encountered in the student’s Diploma Programme subjects and in the wider world outside school. The course should therefore not be devoted to a technical philosophical investigation into the nature of knowledge.
It is useful for students to have a rough working idea of knowledge at the outset of the course. Towards the end of the course this picture will have become more rounded and refined. A useful metaphor for examining knowledge in TOK is a map. A map is a representation, or picture, of the world. It is necessarily simplified—indeed its power derives from this fact. Items not relevant to the particular purpose of the map are omitted. For example, one would not expect to see every tree and bush faithfully represented on a street map designed to aid navigation around a city—just the basic street plan will do. A city street map, however, is quite a different thing to a building plan of a house or the picture of a continent in an atlas. So knowledge intended to explain one aspect of the world, say, its physical nature, might look really quite different to knowledge that is designed to explain, for example, the way human beings interact.
Knowledge can be viewed as the production of one or more human beings. It can be the work of a single individual arrived at as a result of a number of factors including the ways of knowing. Such individual knowledge is called personal knowledge in this guide. But knowledge can also be the work of a group of people working together either in concert or, more likely, separated by time or geography. Areas of knowledge such as the arts and ethics are of this form. These are examples of shared knowledge. There are socially established methods for producing knowledge of this sort, norms for what counts as a fact or a good explanation, concepts and language appropriate to each area and standards of rationality. These aspects of areas of knowledge can be organized into a knowledge framework.
Knowledge and the Knower
The new course comprises three closely connected parts: one compulsory ‘core theme’; five optional themes, which schools select two of; and five areas of knowledge. Forming a key part of the update, a new core theme ‘Knowledge and the Knower’ has been developed where students will reflect on themselves as knowers and on what shapes their own views and perspectives. This has been designed to have strong links to the IB Learner Profile and to help make the course engaging and relevant for students.
Areas of Knowledge
Once the new updates come into effect, there will also be five compulsory Areas of Knowledge, which will ensure that students engage with the arts, mathematics, history, human sciences and natural sciences, and have an opportunity to make connections and comparisons between these different areas. There are also five optional themes, of which two must be chosen. These include knowledge and technology; knowledge and language; knowledge and indigenous societies; knowledge and politics, and knowledge and religion.
An underlying theme of the new TOK course is a greater focus on ethics, which will now be embedded throughout all of the themes and the Areas of Knowledge. Students will be encouraged to focus on ethical concerns relating to how knowledge is produced, acquired, applied, shared and communicated. Jenny Gillett, Senior Curriculum Manager, IB, comments: "The IB has been providing high quality education to learners all over the globe for over 50 years, and where our pedagogy remains consistent, we are frequently looking for new ways to update our courses to keep pace with the ever-changing world in which we live. The new TOK has been designed to be more relevant to today’s learner than ever before. For example, the new ‘knowledge and technology’ optional theme will enable students to discuss important issues such as fake news, and the impact of social media, questioning the impact of technology on knowers and knowledge, and how it helps and hinders our pursuit of knowledge. These are valuable conversations that will not only influence the way our students learn in the classroom, but how they direct their lives beyond school too."