We live in a globalised world, but what does this really mean? Put simply, globalisation is the process of our increasing interdependence on each other across the world, for what we buy, our culture and even our beliefs.
While globalisation is not a new process, it has sped up since 1945, and is having many effects on how we live, the environment, governments, economic development and human well-being around the world.
This interconnectedness is sometimes also referred to as the ‘global village’ where borders and distance become less relevant and the world, figuratively, a smaller place.
Many of the impacts of globalisation are beneficial, but Jimmy Carter, a former US President, has pointed out that many people are missing out on the benefits:
“Globalisation, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.”
While there’s some truth in this sentiment, it’s also true that mobile technology is actually having a positive impact in some of the poorest countries in the world. Globalisation presents huge opportunities and challenges for today’s students, and can generate discussions about who benefits from the globalisation process and how equal its impact is.
Why teach about globalisation?
Developing an understanding of globalisation, what’s driving it, and its impacts can provide students with critical insights into the social, cultural and political consequences of economic integration and communication technologies. Assessing the costs and benefits of globalisation, both for themselves and for others living thousands of miles away can help them build their critical thinking skills. This provides an interesting ethical, as well as analytical, dimension to the study of globalisation.
Globalisation has an impact on many aspects of our lives, so the topic can be integrated into subject areas such as Science, Citizenship, Geography or History.
Because globalisation has such a huge influence over our identities and our lives, it is important for pupils to learn about it if they are to understand the world they will inherit, and be able to take on their future responsibilities. There is no doubt that they face challenges that were never present to their predecessors. Today the world’s problems are truly global – and solutions need to be global too.
(Text taken from: The Challenge of Globalisation , Oxfam, 2003)
What is globalisation?
Children are being born into an increasingly connected world where lines between local and global problems are blurred. Global warming brings flooding to coastal towns even as it afflicts inland farms with drought. Disease and conflict spill over international borders. Solutions, too, are increasingly interwoven. In our hyper-connected world, people and ideas move more fluidly than ever before, generating opportunities for collaboration to create large-scale change.
Globalisation is the ongoing process that is linking people, neighbourhoods, cities and countries more closely than ever before, using technology, transport and trade. The increased speed and flexibility of movement of people, information and products around the world has resulted in all our lives being interconnected via the food we eat, the music we listen to, and the information we receive.
Connections between different parts of the world started in ancient times, with the establishment of trade routes such as the Silk Road across Central Asia, connecting China and Europe as early as the second century BC. By the end of the 19th century, countries became even more closely connected, as transport became much easier and quicker using steamships and railways. Cultures were linked as migrant labour helped the development of the world’s richest countries, such as the USA. However, not everyone benefited from globalisation; the Transatlantic Slave Trade, for instance, saw over ten million Africans shipped to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. The legacy of this inequality has helped shape our globalised world today.
When we think of globalisation, it is often in terms of economic globalisation: for instance our interdependence through global trade, the importance of multinational companies, and increasing information flows through technology. Economic globalisation is having a profound impact on how we live; however, it’s worth noting that there are other aspects of globalisation.
Environmental globalisation reflects the increasingly global effects of human activity on the environment, and the effects of global environmental changes on people. While experts argue that globalisation has contributed towards climate change, bringing down greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating against the effects of climate change will need global cooperation.
Cultural globalisation deals with the connections among languages, and ways of living – while cultural exchange is a huge benefit, some argue that the domination of huge multinational companies, the English language and North American and European cultures is leading to global cultural homogenisation.
Political globalisation includes a wider acceptance of global political standards such as human rights, democracy, the rights of workers, environmental standards, as well as the increased coordination of actions by governments and international agencies such as the European Union, World Bank or United Nations. For instance, the Millennium Development Goals, replaced in 2015 by the Sustainable Development Goals, represent global targets for cutting poverty and tackling challenges such as climate change.
This 8-minute video clip also provides a useful overview.
What’s driving globalisation?
There are several major factors driving economic globalisation:
Freedom of trade and investment: To encourage economic growth and investment, governments have deregulated economic activity to allow market forces greater scope, removing taxes and barriers to international trade. The policies of international agencies like the World Bank, and investment banks, to open their economies to international goods, services, practices and ideas, also try to encourage investment and growth of businesses.
Improvements in transport: Larger cargo ships and availability of oil mean that the cost of transporting goods between countries has decreased. Transport improvements also mean that people can travel more quickly and easily.
Improvements in communications and technology: The internet and mobile technology have allowed greater communication and information flows between people in different countries. Rapid advances in technology, especially in manufacturing and communication, have seen the industrial revolution of the 19th century replaced by an information revolution. The way we access information and media have intensified our daily experiences of global connectedness and contributed to a “global consciousness”.
Labour availability and skills: The same freedom that allows investment, goods and banking to flow much more easily around the world extends in many cases to people as well. This means people can travel abroad for work, which brings more cultural exchange as well as economic benefits. Labour intensive industries such as clothing can take advantage of cheaper labour costs in poorer countries and locate wherever they can make products cheapest.
The rise in per capita income generated by globalisation has fuelled a rise in consumerism and created a cycle of production and consumption.
What does globalisation mean for people around the world?
The impacts of globalisation are huge and affect how we live our lives every day – from what we eat, to what we enjoy doing in our spare time. The following are just a few interesting aspects that could form the starting point for discussion about the impacts of globalisation:
Globalisation has been a major factor in the growth of large multinational corporations, which now play a huge role in the world’s economy. In 2013, 40 of the world’s 100 largest economic entities were corporations.
We can now find McDonald’s in 119 countries on six continents. In fact, so many countries serve up its burgers that the Big Mac Index has become a standard measurement of purchase power, showing us how much our currency will buy us when we travel around the world.
More than 215 million people live outside their countries of birth, and for the first time in human history, more than half the world’s people now live in towns or cities rather than in rural areas.
The internet has changed the way the world learns, communicates and does business. In 2012, 78.6% of the population in North America were using the internet compared to 15.6% in Africa.
Over 70% of the UK’s groceries are bought in just four shops – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – sourcing food from millions of farms and factories across the world
Teaching resources and background information
Geographical Association Journal article Shrinking world? Globalisation at Key Stage 3
Oxfam: We work together – can you? Suitable for KS1 (ages 5-7), looking at conflict on a global scale.
Oxfam: Can You Beat The System? An interactive simulation game for KS3 (ages 11-14) to help learners understand the global food system
Globalization 101 teaching tools – lesson plans developed for US audience
UNESCO Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future: Globalisation module – background info for teachers
3 great films for teaching about globalization and modernization – also includes suggested teaching activities.
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