All IB Diploma and most A level students at Gresham’s take the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course to help them develop further critical thinking and analysis skills. These attributes will provide an invaluable foundation for life after Gresham’s and TOK encourages students to look beyond their immediate areas of curriculum expertise.
Students are given the opportunity to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we ‘know’ what we claim to know. TOK explores ‘how we know’ and encourages students to reflect critically on knowledge claims and knowledge questions. Central to this exploration are the ways of knowing (language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition and memory).
The fundamental question of TOK is “how do we know that?” Students are encouraged to think about how knowledge is arrived at in different disciplines (such as mathematics, the natural and human sciences, history, the arts and ethics), and what these disciplines have in common and the differences between them. TOK therefore both supports and is supported by the study of other subjects, as students are required to explore knowledge questions against the backdrop of their experiences in their other academic subjects. Discussion and critical reflection form the backbone of the TOK course, centring around discussions of questions such as:
- What counts as evidence for X?
- What makes a good explanation in subject Y?
- How do we judge which is the best model of Z?
- How can we be sure of W?
- What does theory T mean in the real world?
- How do we know whether it is right to do S?
Through discussions of these types of questions students gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions, as well as developing an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives.
The TOK course is assessed through a short oral presentation and a 1600 word essay. The TOK presentation assesses the ability of the student to apply TOK thinking to a real-life situation, while the TOK essay takes a more conceptual starting point (for example asking students to discuss the claim that the methodologies used to produce knowledge depend on the use to which that knowledge will be used).
TOK is a demanding and challenging course, but one which plays a crucial role in effectively preparing students for the complex and rapidly-changing world they will encounter both during their Sixth Form studies and beyond at university and in their future careers.