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Teaching about development and globalisation

“We know we cannot understand the character of any place without setting it in the context of its relations with the world beyond. This is place as meeting place; different stories coming together and, to one degree or another, becoming entangled. This is the thrown togetherness of physical proximity. And it is even more marked in an age of globalisation. A global sense of place.”

Doreen Massey, GA Conference, 2001

Topics on this page:

  • What is meant by development?
  • What is meant by globalisation?
  • Why should we teach global learning?
  • Development and globalisation in the school geography curriculum
  • Teaching about development and globalisation
  • Key concepts: scale, interdependence, development and globalisation
  • Different approaches to development and globalisation
  • Studying global and development issues through enquiries
  • Teaching strategies for globalisation
  • Plan a unit for global learning
  • Reading

What is meant by development?

‘Development’ and ‘Globalisation’ mean different things to different people depending on the context. The concept of development is complicated and wide-ranging; it includes the economic, social, and political. Development can be defined as a goal or a process. As a goal, it is measured by economic indicators such as the income necessary for attaining benefits, e.g. levels of education and good health.

When development is conceptualised as a process, it usually focuses on urbanisation, industrialisation and economic growth. ‘Developed’ has been defined simply as all people reaching an acceptable quality of life. But this does not answer questions such as what is an ‘acceptable’ in this context and by whose values is  ‘quality of life’ determined? As Hopkin (2017) writes, ‘What we mean by development, the best policies to achieve it and explanations for uneven development are all deeply contested’.

You might have recently studied ‘development’ in depth as part of your degree studies; if not, you should do some reading, from texts suggested in this page, to inform and update you so that you have a secure understanding before you plan to teach about this complex topic. Make sure you know about different development measures such as The World Bank’s Gross National Income per capita (GNI pc) and The Human Development Index (HDI).

Read Willis (2014) for an introduction to the three main ways in which geographers have approached the concept of development: modernisation, Marxist analysis and poststructuralism. Also read Lowe (2016) about the rise of the BRICs in the global economy’

What is meant by globalisation?

Butt (2017) explains that globalisation is another challenging concept for students to engage with, but it is a very important one for geography. He refers to it as ‘oblique’ or ‘slippery’ and explains how the term is often misunderstood or misrepresented. The media have adopted the term, but often use it in ways which suit their own interests and arguments in a particular context.

However, in geography, globalisation is about the interconnections that bind the world together. In academic geography the processes that contribute to globalisation are well established and its origins can be traced back many years to colonial history. In present times common problems are recognised to be world-wide, from issues of wealth and poverty to climate change and crime.

New technologies, especially the communications revolution, has intensified globalisation and our lives have become increasingly interdependent, with local and national events impacting on distant places and vice versa. There are changes happening across the globe that affect communities but cannot be managed locally by nation-states. For example, some multinationals (e.g. in commerce and social media) have grown to be more powerful and wealthier than many nation states and bring about changes that affect us all.

Globalisation has brought interconnectedness and interdependence but it has not brought homogeneity and there are still enduring differences between peoples and cultures. Globalisation has also brought fragmentation, arising from nationalism, ethnic and religious identity and global terrorism. The impact of the changes brought about by globalisation are uneven and create more inequalities.

Think carefully about the impact that globalisation has on your life, and your students, as well as considering world-wide impacts. Roberts (2013) provides a range of definitions of globalisation (Figure 9.9) and Butt (2017) for an exploration of the concept and its place in education.

 Why should we teach global learning?

Geography, as the subject that teaches about the world, is an important vehicle for learning about ‘development’ and ‘globalisation’ and the connections between places at a variety of scales.

  • Read Massey (2014) for a discussion of why we should teach ‘the global’.

After reading this you will understand that when geography teachers talk about ‘global learning’ it means much more than learning about ‘distant places’, as described in Teaching distant places (look at this if you have not already done so). It includes ideas about global connections and global systems.

Every locality, wherever it is in the world, has a global dimension. When we teach about globalisation, we should ask questions such as: Why is it happening? Where is it happening? Where isn’t it happening? And we should also focus on: How does it affect people’s lives? Who benefits or is disadvantaged in a globalised world?

Global learning in geography aims to help students to:

  • understand how their local place is linked with places all over the world, economically and culturally
  • explore the meaning of the concepts of globalisation and interconnectedness
  • become aware of the complexity of the ways in which we are connected
  • be aware of the role of governments, businesses and non-government organisations (NGOs) in globalisation
  • encourage students to see things from the perspective of others
  • challenge students to think about how the world could be different.

The content of global learning can often be controversial and has a values dimension. To consider how you can approach teaching these topics you should read Values and controversial issues and Critical thinking if you have not already done so.

Global learning is closely linked to ideas of development and it embraces what was formerly known as development education; in your reading you may find reference to this term.

  • For an overview of the complexity of global learning and how it has evolved over the last few decades read these two texts, Shah (2009) and Hopkin (2017).
  • What do you understand by the major concepts of global learning: ‘sustainability’, ‘global citizenship’ and ‘development’?
  • Shah refers the role of the different agencies – government, business, NGOs and individuals. Can you think of examples you could use in your teaching to illustrate the role of each of these?
  • Hopkins notes that developing understanding of global interconnections is almost absent from geography National Curriculum. Do you think it should be an essential part of the curriculum you teach and why?

Hopkin (2017) explains the curriculum aims of the Global Learning Programme (GLP) which was active from 2013 to 2018. See this link which has numerous discussion papers and teaching resources for global learning that arose from the GA’s participation in this project.

Development and globalisation in the school geography curriculum

From 2013 to 2018 the UK government funded (through DFID) the Global learning programme. Its goals were that every child growing up in the UK should learn about the world around them, develop their knowledge and skills to make judgements about global poverty, its causes and what can be done to reduce it. Rather bizarrely, however, despite this government funding, there was no reference to globalisation in the 2014 geography National Curriculum at key stage 3; only some relevant terms such as ‘international development’ and ‘interaction’ are mentioned.

GCSE geography does include ‘development’ on its agenda and aims to enable ‘young people to become globally and environmentally informed and thoughtful, enquiring citizens’. It includes the recognition of important links and inter-relationships between places and environments at a range of scales from local to global e.g. global ecosystems and biodiversity; global economic development issues.

For ‘development’ the detailed GCSE content to be studied is similar for all specifications: patterns of inequality; how development is measured; causes and consequences of uneven development and strategies to reduce it.  GCSE students are expected to be familiar with terms such as ‘development gap’, ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life’.

  • See Figure 3 in Roberts (2018).

At A level there is a core unit in all specifications on ‘Global systems and global governance’. It you are training to teach post-16 you should study the examination specification carefully for this unit, and discuss with your geography mentor how they teach this (refer to the reading for A level at the end of this page).

Teaching about development and globalisation

In most good geography curricula at key stage 2/3, learning about development is approached via global learning and follows an approach that emphasises the importance of linking people’s lives throughout the world. The aims of the Global Learning Programme were to:

‘help pupils gain additional knowledge about the developing world, the causes of poverty and what can be done to reduce it. They will also develop the skills to interpret that knowledge in order to make judgements about global poverty’.

However, in the following key stage the approach to development, as found in GCSE texts and examinations, sits somewhat uneasily with this. As summarised in the paragraphs above, the approach more closely reflects the modernisation paradigm as outlined by Willis (2014).

A good geography curriculum should do more than prepare students to pass examinations, it should prepare them for adulthood. Therefore, students should be taught to think critically about development and globalisation and have the necessary knowledge to hold informed opinions about matters such as global poverty.

Teachers should bear this in mind as they prepare students for GCSE so that students are not content to settle for simplistic explanations for uneven development or ‘issues arising from globalisation’. Nor should they see all countries with the label ‘LIC’ as the same. They should recognise the diversity of places and differences in development ‘within’ a country. Teachers should help students to develop positive attitudes to the wider world and its challenges, and equip them as adults to make informed judgements and act with integrity.

Ofsted (2008) has identified some of the key issues that students should be thinking about:

A further problem is that, whatever countries are chosen, pupils’ knowledge of them is not extended from local to global, and links between them to develop broader understanding are not made. ‘Acting locally, thinking globally’ is a cornerstone of the global dimension. Pupils in secondary schools should be thinking about the issues of global citizenship, conflict resolution, diversity, human rights, interdependence, social justice and sustainable development. However, in many schemes of work, these concepts are absent or incidental. Teaching programmes which are dominated by content provide few opportunities to pursue them.’ (Paragraph 109)

  • Refer to Roberts (2023) pp. 150-2 for an example of how the strategy of intelligent guesswork can be used to explore life expectancy at birth as part of a topic on development or global inequalities. It could be used to focus on any of the indices of development, using up-to-date data available from the World Health Organization or the World Bank, which is accessible online.

Key concepts: scale, interdependence, development and globalisation

These are the four overarching concepts that should be uppermost in your mind when you plan your teaching. The concepts of development and globalisation are discussed earlier on this page and, as John Hopkin (2017) points out, these are demanding concepts for students to understand.

You should begin with more familiar examples before introducing more abstract and complex ideas. Hopkins also reminds us that globalisation includes a strong values dimension, for investigations ‘might explore the costs for some people, places and environments, and benefits for others.’

One important matter to consider with respect to the concept of development is: What geographical terms to use to describe stages of development? Read these papers about teaching ‘development’ and the terms that are used.

There are other concepts that could also be identified as a lesson focus on development. Sassoon (2012) writes about the design of a unit of work that used a concept-led approach on the theme of ‘development’. Her key concepts taught over three lessons were diversity, change and interaction. In her final lesson of the unit she used the concept of space to tie it all together.

Taylor (2011) provides further thoughts about teaching the concept of diversity. Her article also provides some very useful insights into managing the tension that exists between teaching about the complexity of the world and making it accessible for students.

Scale in this context refers to different spatial resolutions – e.g. the urban, the national, or the global. Peter Jackson (2014) describes one view of the world as a ‘Russian doll’ view, ‘whereby each scale is separate from and/or nests inside other scales.’ Instead of this, he promotes a relational way of thinking, whereby,

different scales are intimately connected with each other such that ‘the global’ is not separate from the many ‘locals’ that comprise it, and each locality is comprised from the many forces that act upon it – including those that operate at a global scale. Decisions taken on Wall Street or in Brussels reverberate around the world, impacting in different ways in different places.’ (Geography, Summer 2014).

Good geography requires study on different scales – if we only studied the local, or only studied the global, we would lose the possibility of seeing the interconnections and interdependence between places. To capture this relational way of seeing the world in the classroom, we should zoom in and zoom out of scales in our teaching of topics involving development and not remain at one fixed scale.

Interdependence recognises interactions between the global and the local and involves economic, social and environmental change. For example, it helps students to understand, how human actions in one place can have consequences in another (such as deforestation causing flooding; war resulting in refugee migration; industry relying on resources exploited in a different place).

In teaching the processes of globalisation we pose questions such as: How are different places interdependent? What are the implications of this? What challenges does it create? Understanding the concept of interdependence should help students to recognise what influences us and, in turn, what we influence.

Arising from John Hopkin’s chapter that you have read, there are some important questions to consider about teaching uneven development and globalisation so as to give students an understanding of development and globalisation. Reflect carefully on the questions in the drop down section that are points raised by Hopkin and discuss them with geography teachers in your school and/or your geography tutor/mentor. You need to decide how best to approach your teaching of these topics fairly and honestly and to encourage your students to always seek accurate information on which to make their own judgements and decisions.

  • What terms should I use to describe different countries’ development’?
  • Are there different interpretations of ‘development’ that should be discussed with students?
  • How can I present students with a range of different ways it to measure it?
  • Does ‘development’ always lead to good, beneficial outcomes?
  • Why do some places prosper whilst others do not?
  • Why do over one billion people currently still live in extreme poverty?
  • Do I encourage students to share their perspectives about what constitutes quality of life?
  • What can we learn from countries in other parts of the globe, including those that may be described as ‘less developed’?
  • Is globalisation a force for good or for ill?
  • How can I select case studies that avoid stereotyping or telling a ‘single’ story?
  • Poverty and inequality occur in the UK as well as across the world – how can we study global issues locally?
  • How can I avoid ‘leading’ students to what I might consider to be the ‘right answers’?

Different approaches to development and globalisation

Look again at Hopkin (2017) pp 113-7 where three different teaching approaches are considered, described as:

  • Global citizenship
  • Traditional geography
  • Knowledgeable geography.
  • Make notes on each of these three approaches to identify the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Study your school KS3 curriculum and highlight in three different colours the elements that match each approach global citizenship, traditional geography, knowledgeable geography.
  • Do you agree with John Hopkin in his preference for the approach shown in Figure 7 on page 117?
  • What does your curriculum analysis show?
  • Discuss your findings from the analysis as well as your own ideas on the three different approaches with your geography mentor.
  • Read what Ofsted have written about teaching the global dimension and the role geography plays in helping young people to recognise their contribution and responsibilities as citizens of their local area, their country and the wider global community. See Globalisation 1 and Globalisation 2.

Studying global and development issues through enquiries

Geographical enquiry has particular value in global learning where issues can be challenging and potentially controversial. Carrying out an enquiry can help students to engage with some big geographical ideas and explore alternative perspectives.

John Hopkin sees advantages in enquiries which:

  • Involve students in asking questions that help to connect their interests with the real world motivating and empowering them to investigate in a structured way
  • Them to make sense of complex concepts such as development or globalisation
  • Focus on investigating and evaluating different types of evidence.

Alcock (2019) points out that students often harbour misconceptions about the state of the world and underestimate the progress that many countries have made in areas such as improving health and education and reducing poverty. His article gives plenty of ideas for building an enquiry around a theme such as ‘Are things as bad as we think?’.

Picton (2010) provides examples of two enquiries strongly rooted Doreen Massey’s ideas. His choice of topics, mobile phones and McDonalds, illustrates how students’ life experiences can be the starting point for enquiries into globalisation.

  • Read Roberts (2023) p 61, which shows how all four aspects of enquiries can be used to investigate patterns of global development and global inequalities.
  • For a case study of a teaching unit for Year 9 students, see Uneven development – from the GA’s Making Geography Happen project.

Key approaches to use

Development compass rose. When teaching about development students need to explore interrelationships, not just between places, but between natural, economic, social and political dimensions and this is one way of doing this. The development compass rose was devised by the Development Education Centre in Birmingham and is referred to in an article by Roger Robinson in Teaching Geography in April 1995.

It is a simple but effective tool for thinking about these four dimensions and the processes that affect the geography of any place students are studying. Look at this example of its use for photo analysis and the questions it poses. Adapt this to use with an appropriate up-to-date image.

Connecting with the global. If the global is always represented as distant and disconnected then students will find it difficult to relate to. Zoom in and out from local to global, and vice versa, when teaching topics to help students to reference people, places and themes back to themselves and their actions; at the same time you will be introducing the concept of scale.

Look for ways to encourage students to connect with the global. Look at this example of a scaffold with a photograph in the centre to ask ‘What has this got to do with me?’. Depending on the age and the learning maturity of your students you may want to simplifying it or ask more searching questions.

Gapminder provides access to statistics and other information about social, economic and environ­mental development at a range of scales. It has plenty of high quality data that makes it a powerful tool to illustrate how different statistics give very different messages about a country’s state of development. Using this site in lessons has the potential to challenge many misconceptions that students have about development data and what it actually means. Explore further the Gapminder and Worldmapper pages on the GA website.

Challenging worldviews

This short web teaching resource Challenging your worldview helps students to understand what a worldview is and what influences it. This introduces some ideas for developing a more balanced worldview, including media and data literacy techniques. Young people are heavily influenced by the media, which tends to give them a dramatic and negative worldview. Sometimes what we teach either unwittingly contributes to this worldview or does not specifically address the factors leading to it. This may entrench negative stereotypes of some parts of the world.

Teaching strategies for globalisation

  • Refer to Geography: The Global Dimension key stage 3, DEA/GA 2004. Although published a while ago this is still a useful resource, for an overview of Global Learning as well as suggesting a wide range of teaching and learning approaches.
  • Refer to Douglas (2004) offers practical ideas for teaching complex issues in globalisation.
  • See ideas 81 (Where my stuff comes from), 85 (MEDC or not) in Rogers (2017).
  • RGS What is globalisation.
  • See Saddington and McConnell (2023) for role-play resources designed for key stage 5 to engage students with geopolitics to foster a deeper understanding of the geographical dynamics that underpin global governance.
Plan a unit for global learning

Plan a unit of work to explore a one (or more) of the relevant core concepts – development, interdependence, globalisation, poverty with a key stage 3 class. Refer to these to guide you:

    • The key questions (see text box) that are from An introduction to geography and global learning from the Global Learning Programme.
    • PowerPoint: Progression in GL through geography to help you plan the learning outcomes for your unit.
    • The references: Picton (2010), Alcock (2019), Lang (2011), Sassoon (2012), and Taylor (2011).
    • The booklet Geography: The Global Dimension Key Stage 3, DEA 2004. This is a useful resource with good support for curriculum planning e.g. the ‘Planning toolkit’ (p 9), the ‘Teaching and learning sequence’ (p 14) and the ‘Venn diagram’ (p 15).
  • What do we mean by ‘developing country’? How is it similar to or different to our own or other countries? How is this measured? Which countries are ‘developing’? Do different countries have less and more developed regions within them?
  • What do we mean by globalisation? What is it? Why is it happening? Where is it happening? Where isn’t it happening? How does it affect people’s lives? What are its positive and negative effects? What kind of issues are there? Who benefits or is disadvantaged in a globalised world?
  • What do we mean by poverty? What is relative and what is absolute poverty? Why is it happening? Where is it happening and why? How do we measure quality of life? What’s it got to do with us? How can poverty be reduced and eradicated? 
  • How are different places interdependent with each other? What are the implications of this? What challenges does it create? How does technology have an impact on global development? 
  • Where is this information from and is it valid? What approaches do I need to explore these issues? What is evidence, bias or opinion?
  • Consider how you are going to evaluate student learning at the end of the unit. Bear in mind this comment from England (2015), ‘If they hadn’t gauged students’ perceptions at the start and end of the Global week, the teachers might have assumed that the stereotypes had been successfully challenged.’
  • Alcock, D. (2019) ‘Optimism, progress and geography – celebration and calibration’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Butt, G. (2017) ‘Globalisation: a brief exploration of its challenging, contested and competing concepts’ Geography, Spring.
  • Douglas, L. (2004) ‘Globalisation, geography and citizenship’, Teaching Geography, April.
  • England, R. (2015) ‘Countering stereotypes through global learning’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Ferreira, J. (2022) ‘Global challenges’, Geography Subject Knowledge, Programme, Royal Geographical Society,
  • Hopkin, J. (2017) ‘Global learning,’ in Jones, M. (ed) The Handbook of Secondary Geography. Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 9.
  • Lambert, D. , Morgan, A., Swift, D. and Brownlie, A. Geography: The Global Dimension key stage 3, DEA/GA 2004.
  • Lang, B. (2011) ‘Gapminder: bringing statistics to life, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Lowe P. (2016) ‘The rise of the BRICs in the global economy’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Massey, D. (2014) ‘Taking on the world’, Geography, Spring.
  • Oakes, S. (2022) ‘Global Systems, Global Governance’, Geography Subject Knowledge, Programme, Royal Geographical Society.
  • Picton, O. (2010) ‘Shrinking World? Globalisation at key stage 3’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Roberts, M. (2023) Geography Through Enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school, Second edition, Sheffield: Geographical Association.
  • Rogers, D. (2017) 100 ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Geography Lessons, Bloomsbury Education.
  • Saddington, L. and McConnell, F. (2023) ‘Debating global governance: resources to engage A level students with geopolitics’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Sassoon, H. (2012) ‘Teaching the geography of development from the ‘big picture’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Shah, H. (2010) ‘Critical thinking in the context of global learning‘, Primary Geography, Spring.
  • Taylor, L. (2011) ‘The negotiation of diversity’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Willis, K. (2014) ‘Development: geographical perspectives on a contested concept’, Geography, Summer. (To access more articles from Geography journal either log in or join the GA).
  • Refer to Development, Economic Change and Globalisation from Reteach.
  • For further references see Reading list for development and globalisation. 

Reading for A Level

  • Brook, M. (2013) ‘Development: contested, complex and diverse’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Dodds, K. (2016) ‘Global governance’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Larner, J. (2016) ‘Encouraging thinking about global issues’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Hesslewood, A. (2018) ‘Teaching the geographies of human rights’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Willis, K. (2018) ‘Gender, development and human rights; exploring global governance’, Geography. Summer.

Geo (for A Level students):

Further Reading and Resources

Further teaching resources

From the GA

Other useful websites and resources