The Pacific is a beautiful region with a dangerous future. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, obesity and heart disease are the single largest cause of death in the region. Often caused by preventable factors such as diet and activity, NCDs account for over 70% of deaths across the Pacific.

NCDs are clearly a big problem, and there is no magic solution.  But, two years ago, we were asked to see if we could use storytelling and technology to help. Since then, we’ve worked with local Pacific Islanders and international experts in order to understand the problem and craft a potential solution.

The result was Beyond the Stars.

Beyond the Stars (BTS) is a world-first health education program created in partnership with SecondMuse, DFAT’s innovationXchange and the Fijian Government. BTS uses transmedia storytelling, innovative technology and tangential learning to inspire children across the Pacific to adopt healthy eating habits. Bringing together film, virtual reality, storybooks and games, BTS provides an innovative new way to educate children about health and nutrition.

Our goal with BTS was to show how storytelling and technology could be used to address complex problems like NCDs. It’s a new approach, and one we believe might just have the potential to produce real and lasting change. Read on to see how each part of BTS is designed to contribute to that goal, and how the program itself is changing lives in the Pacific.

Virtual reality inspires children to become their own hero

After watching the cinematic, children are invited to explore the magical world of BTS for themselves through a virtual reality (VR) experience. Designed to heighten engagement with the rest of the program, Beyond the Stars VR gives children a vital experience of immersion and agency that encourages a personal connection to the story.

Fijian classroom in virtual reality for Beyond the Stars VR

Bula from a virtual Fijian classroom!

Ultimately, the VR experience gives children the opportunity to become the hero of their own BTS story. In choosing to take this quest and rediscover the guardians’ secrets, children begin their own personal journey with the program.

Pacific Island inspired guardian statues in the Beyond the Stars VR game

Which guardian would you choose to guide you on the rest of your journey?

Exploring educational content through story and activities

At the end of their VR experience, children are presented with their own copy of the BTS storybook. Appearing in both the virtual and real world, the storybook is an important point of connection for the transmedia story. Here, children start to realise that what they learn in the fictional world could also affect their own lives.

Stack of Beyond the Stars activity books at a school in Fiji

Having in school and at home activities was crucial to reinforcing the program’s learnings.

Throughout the storybook, children explore different aspects of the story as they learn about healthy eating, physical education and the environment. Supported by example lesson plans, the BTS storybook combines curriculum, national policies and global recommendations into a vibrant learning resource.

Page illustrations of Pacific Island from the Beyond the Stars storybook

Vibrant illustrations inspired by Fijian culture make learnings relevant for children.

The low-fi storybook helps extend the program’s reach by giving children the opportunity to share what they’ve learnt with others. This act of sharing empowers children to make positive health choices, and to encourage others to do the same.

Fijian student looks at the Beyond the Stars storybook at school

A child in Fiji shows us their favourite page from the Beyond the Stars book.

Interactive games foster a personal learning journey

The final piece of the BTS puzzle is the interactive mobile game. This interactive, story-driven game helps the program capitalise on tangential learning to provide a fun, child-driven approach to education. By encouraging children to actively participate in the learning process, the game encourages children to personalise and internalise educational outcomes.

Screenshot of magical islands from Beyond the Stars Mobile game

Each of these magical islands have their own stories and challenges to explore.

Throughout the game, children work to keep their own village healthy and travel to other islands on their quest. These new islands feature a range of mini games (which you can play yourself by downloading the game) that allow children to explore educational content from multiple angles, reinforcing and personalising their learning.

Screenshots from the Beyond the Stars Mobile game

The better you do in the mini games, the more healthy foods you’ll earn.

By presenting educational content as a game, this part of the program encourages children to take control of their learning. It provides children with a safe environment in which to experiment with and reinforce practical knowledge around nutrition.

Screenshot of a magical Pacific environment from Beyond the Stars Mobile

Did we mention that your character in the game is fully customisable?

Bringing everything together into a world-first educational experience

The process for creating and bringing all these individual elements together was extensive. For two years, we collaborated with a wide range of local and international experts in everything from story to education, nutrition to technology. We also worked with Fijian schools and communities to ensure that what we created was culturally appropriate and educationally sound.

Last year, BTS was piloted with over 300 children in schools across urban, rural and remote Fiji. The final report on the pilot is now complete, and we’ll be sharing the results over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we’d be happy to share a copy of the report with any interested professionals.

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