Problem Based Learning in Cinema

Not One Less (Yi ge dou bu neng shao) 1999. Subtitled. Director Yimou Zhang. 103 minutes.

Last week I watched the brilliant Not One Less directed by Yimou Zhang (the man responsible for directing the opening of the 2008 Olympic games and the equally accomplished Raise the Red Lantern).  This is a wonderful film, that uses non-actors and naturalistic footage to startling effect.  In brief, the story follows the exploits of 13 year old substitute teacher Wei as she struggles to keep her class together in a dilapidated rural primary school.  The film has been cited as an astute example of censorship politics as Yimou weaves themes such as rural poverty, urban juvenile homelessness, and a woefully underfunded educational system into an uplifting story that has gained international critical acclaim. Notably, this film is also useful for educators seeking a lucid portrayal of Problem Based Learning.

The efficacy of PBL can split opinion, but has been used particularly successfully here at the University of Nottingham for Post Graduate Medical training.  I’ve already cited PBL resources available online from the University of Nottingham’s PESL project, featuring staff and students’ reflections along side seminar footage .  Not One Less offers something entirely different and yet in many ways entirely the same.

The film galvanises around Wei and her classes efforts to get her to the big city. What is the bus fare? How much is a return trip for the teacher and a student?  How can they afford it? How much must everybody contribute?  How long does each student need to work to raise the cash?  In these circumstances the children demonstrate key principles of PBL to great effect.  If you are applying PBL or teaching pedagogic principles and wishing to demonstrate key concepts, this film is definitely worth a look and may offer a useful illustration and vignette for group reflections and discussion.

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