Principal, Secondary Years Message

I am very excited to be back in a classroom this year, teaching our grade 12 students a Diploma Programme Theory of knowledge (TOK) course.

TOK offers students a methodology and vocabulary in order to examine an essential question of ‘how do we know’.

Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American scholar and philosopher stated that ‘There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything, or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.’

As tempting as it is for teenagers, the goal is not to reach nihilism; the goal is rather to help students critically assess the plethora of information thrown at us every day.

With the development of social media and Internet-based mobile devices, we all became published reporters and journalists; we are writing history right now which will eventually be studied not in textbooks but by examining social media feeds.

As such, we want to ensure that our present and future students can navigate the world knowing the difference between bias, censorship, expert opinion, reliability of sources and many more.

They are also expected to examine each other’s opinions to test limitations of own arguments.

TOK has been a core part of the Diploma programme since its inception in 1968 and I continue to be impressed at the relevance of the course today: I feel it is more difficult to become dogmatic and extremist if one is encouraged, expected and taught to think critically and for oneself.

The TOK-style thinking can also be used when looking at education management.

Many of us (educators and parents alike) have been internationally mobile for a long time.

As such, we like to compare: we compare countries we have lived in, we compare languages we have learned, we compare the food we have eaten, and we compare schools we have worked at or studied in.

But how do we know what makes a good school?

Using the TOK methodology, one can use reason and History to conclude that XY is a good school because it has performed consistently well over time on DP examinations; using emotion and Human sciences, one can believe XY is a good school because students, teachers and parents are happy (perhaps through empirical evidence).

One can also use inductive reasoning when saying that Teacher A is a good teacher; Teacher B is a good teacher; Teacher C is a good teacher; therefore all teachers at the school are good (this example of course also works in reverse).

My goal for this academic year is to keep asking myself, our teachers, students and parents the question ‘how do we know’ so that we can learn from the answers and keep making GEMS (Singapore) a great place to learn.

I wish everyone a very successful and inquiring academic year!


Jan Stipek, Secondary Years Principal

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