The (unexpectedly long and fraught) story behind Paperight’s Matric exam packs

Inside the Western Cape Department of Education.

Past exam papers are one of the most valuable resources that any student preparing for their matric exams can have. A long set of difficult exams is a daunting task for anybody, but by reading through or practicing their knowledge and skills on past papers, matric students can become familiar with the questions and challenges that await them in the most important year of their education.

The South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) ostensibly has links to all past papers somewhere in bowels of their complicated and policy-heavy website. But, contrary to expectations, they aren’t completely available or accessible.

As a company obsessed with both education and ease of access, one of the first things we wanted to do at Paperight was to offer complete and organised packs of past matric exam papers and memos that Paperight outlets could freely print out for their customers. After six months, we’ve finally done it. Some might think this isn’t the biggest deal, and up until six months ago, we didn’t think it’d be a huge task either. What transpired, however, was something altogether much more difficult than we ever could have thought.

The first hurdle we found was that a substantial portion of the links to papers on the DBE’s website – as many as 110 of them – either don’t work or, equally as often, take you through to an incorrect document. E-mails and phone calls to employees at both the DBE and the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) were mostly responded to with the insistence that all of the papers and memos were indeed online. Others that understood the issue and were kind enough to give us their time asked for a list of papers we needed, but then found they couldn’t help us.

After three months of trawling through provincial DBE websites and numerous emails back-and-forth, we decided to visit WCED personally in Cape Town city centre to get the over-100 papers and memos we needed to compile our packs. It took over an hour of skulking around stairwells and numerous CCTV-surveilled corridors to find somebody who could help us. Taking our flash drive and a list of exams, he disappeared behind a metal gate for twenty minutes. On his return, we thought the wait to have a complete set of exams was over. Alas, not: he had given us the wrong exams.

We eventually gave in and decided to buy sets of matric exams from EduMedia, the WCED’s educational resource arm. They were inexpensive, at R20 each for a full set of one year’s matric exams, but they too were incomplete. They did, however, give us many of the papers we needed that the DBE couldn’t physically or digitally give us for free.¹ Through this patchwork of different sources, we’d achieved our goal, four months later and using the efforts of three well-connected full-time employees.

One question came up between Paperight team members every time we hit a snag: how is the average matric student supposed to do this? Matric students should not be forced to go through undue inconvenience or cost to simply access a complete archive of past papers to help them prepare for the culmination of their schooling careers.

Accessibility is the main problem. Not only do the most comprehensive sets of matric papers available cost money, they are also mostly only accessible in South Africa’s major centres. (EduMedia, for example, only has one physical branch, in Mowbray, Cape Town; matric exam papers aren’t listed on their online shop.) Even more fundamental than this, however, is that most of the avenues for students that the DBE or other bodies provide for them to get their study materials from are either costly, or reliant on broadband internet access through a computer, something to which large swathes of the South African population still have little or no regular or affordable access. Added to the fact that these online resources are predominantly in English and provide a hodgepodge of uncompiled and disorganised documents, a huge percentage of South Africa’s students are presented with major impediments, over and above any other challenges they might be facing.

Paperight, however, is making matric exam papers easier to access. By putting de facto bookstores, potentially in every town in South Africa, through internet cafés, schools and copyshops, matric students can access and print out complete ready-prepared packages of all the past paper resources they need, literally at the click of a button. While it might not be a perfect system (Paperight is, at this stage, a service that requires an outlet to have an internet connection, after all) it’s a vast improvement on the systems that currently exist: Paperight exam packs are readily-available, comprehensive and free to access. No more digging in the bowels of unintelligible government websites, no more trudging through irrelevant policy documents and jargon-laden text, and no more shelling over money for something that should be easy to access.

So, with great pride and relief, we’re very happy to say: if you or someone you know needs matric exam papers, you can find a full list of our available exam packs here.

¹Not to mention that the EduMedia packs only supplied us with papers that have been used in the Western Cape. For papers for province-specific subjects, such as First Additional and Second Additional Languages, we (and learners, by extension) were forced to rely on the DBE, with typically poor results.

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