IB announces new TOK course with greater focus on real-world conversations and ethics


The International Baccalaureate (IB) has announced a series of updates to its Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, including the introduction of new optional themes ‘knowledge and technology’ and ‘knowledge and politics’, to stimulate conversations around the most impactful and relevant topics affecting today’s world. The new curriculum will be introduced in 2020, with the first assessment in 2022.

One of the core components of the IB’s Diploma Programme (DP), TOK encourages students to reflect on the nature of knowledge and how we know what we claim to know, through meaningful discussions around specific questions and significant topics.

Knowledge and the knower

The 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, 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 new 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.


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.”


The way TOK is delivered within schools will also change in line with the new update, including the way it is assessed. A new TOK exhibition task is being introduced, with a focus on demonstrating how TOK manifests in the real world. The exhibition replaces the current Internal Assessment (IA) presentation with an entirely new task and moderation process, and will also provide an opportunity for schools to deliver exciting exhibition activities that help raise the profile of TOK in their school.

In addition, the essay component of TOK assessment will focus on the Areas of Knowledge, and will require students to discuss highly stimulating knowledge questions, such as whether it is artificial to divide mathematics and natural sciences into separate Areas of Knowledge, or how important the opinions of experts are in the search for knowledge. The changes aim to make expectations clearer, and allow assessment to be more accessible for the learner, while remaining the unique and challenging course TOK is known for being.