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Finding common ground with TOK

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Ayman Siraj reflects on how the IB helped him understand different points of view though the theory of knowledge (TOK). This is his third story in our graduate voices series.

Finding common ground with TOK

By Ayman Siraj

There are many aspects where the Diploma Programme (DP) shines. Some of them are absolutely critical in different areas of life, such as being able to be analytical, to write in-depth, and to be a global thinker. There are also softer skills like communication, empathy and understanding that you carry forward and use every day. From a personal and societal standpoint, these traits are ever more important in the world we currently live in, which is often depicted as, “divided”.

The International Baccalaureate’s mission statement has a section as follows: “Encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right”. This statement came to life in my favorite subject during the DP—economics HL. I had an amazing teacher that challenged the class to think critically, and many of the concepts we learned directly addressed real-life occurrences—income elasticity, resource allocation, the government’s role in the economy, etc. What fascinates me about economics is that there is never a right answer, but rather there is a better answer when you take the different context of the situation into account.

“Differences of opinion are explored best through the eight ways of knowing we learn in our theory of knowledge (TOK) classes—language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition and memory”.

I would be amiss to not use this opportunity discuss differences in context using COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Governments across the world have reacted very differently to it. In the United States, the federal response has been very laissez-faire, leaving states to step up and make their own rules on how to keep themselves safe. This has resulted in a patch-work of rules and orders that often are more confusing and non-sensical as you read through them. In Australia, individual states have closed their borders to nonessential travel between states. That is akin to California closing travel between New York. Could we ever imagine that as a possibility in the United States? Canada has been very generous with COVID-19 payments, with some Canadians qualify for up to CAD$2000 per month while some Americans received a one-time payment of US$1200.

Differences of opinion are explored best through the eight ways of knowing we learn in our theory of knowledge (TOK) classes—language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition and memory. I would like to say there is another one, which plays out with COVID-19, which is experience—what we observe and rationalize. When you look at why many folks don’t believe in COVID-19 or act against recommended guidelines, it’s because they have not experienced it themselves or know someone close to them that has been impacted. These groups of people are usually either who live in rural areas where there is a lower population density and fewer people traveling in and out from other areas or white-collar workers who can get their work done from home and get groceries delivered. The communities in rural areas are less likely to wear masks and the working professionals are more likely to go out and socialize with others, potentially leading to asymptotic spread.

“I would encourage you IB graduates to weave in discussions about important topics”

A few days ago, I was chit-chatting with my Uber driver and the conversation veered toward the topic of when or if life will go back to normalcy and we landed on debate about the effectiveness of a future vaccine. He was openly skeptical of vaccines and I was shocked. My mind wandered to the great lengths taken to successfully combat Polio and Tetanus—bringing it back to the ways of knowing, I wondered if a broader set of experiences could have changed his perspective? I doubt I could have convinced him, but this experience goes to show that we, in this world, have a long way to go in socializing knowledge and finding more ways to have open-minded dialogue.

The knowledge that is obvious to you may be considered not knowledge at all by someone else and that’s the challenge we face in the age of misinformation. All in all, COVID-19 has really brought out that there is a whole lot of viewpoints in this world. It’s often hard for you as an individual to think, “Well, how is what they are doing over there even make sense for me?” No matter how hard you try to rationalize, you may think your viewpoint is right but be careful that is maybe your self-confirmation bias. In the U.S., opinions about policy and politics are seldom spoken about among co-workers or even friends in my experience. I’ve worked on projects with British colleagues, who are far more open to discussing policy & politics in professional settings.

Going through the DP, especially TOK and economics HL, I’ve become comfortable about sharing my opinion. I know there will be friends and co-workers who may disagree, but the point is to talk about why we disagree and what commonality there is in the differing viewpoints. I would encourage you IB graduates to weave in discussions about important topics—whether it be how governments respond to pandemics or the importance of exercising one’s right to vote when they come in social conversations instead of just customarily laughing them of. TOK made me comfortable about the fact that everyone will not have the same aligning viewpoints, but some viewpoints are, “more appropriate”, given the context of time and place.

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Ayman Siraj is a graduate of Kodaikanal International School, Tamil Nadu, India. He continued his studies at the University of Southern California (USC) in the United States. He has been working at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a Cybersecurity consultant since graduating from USC. On weekends, you are likely to find him playing football (soccer), aimlessly scrolling through memes on social media or missing being home in Bangladesh. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Instagram.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter Instagram and YouTube!

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