In 1997, the Government of Sri Lanka launched a comprehensive set of education reforms designed to promote equitable access to basic education and improvements in learning outcomes. The package of reforms arose as a political response to widespread youth unrest in the late 1980s and attracted considerable ‘political will’, a vague but much vaunted term in the international policy discourse. Yet, despite seemingly high levels of national political will, reform has not been plain sailing. Using evidence from interviews with policy elites and an analysis of policy texts and evaluations, this paper analyses the role of political will at national and local levels in policy formulation and implementation in a policy environment characterised by ‘patronage politics’. It explores the interaction between the political, administrative, technical, human resource and financial drivers and inhibitors of five reform components and argues that local-level political will, as well as national-level political will, has played a central role in determining whether formulated policies are translated into action on the ground. ‘Political will’ is a double-edged sword.
Journal of Education Policy (2011) 26 (4) 499-512 [DOI:10.1080/02680939.2011.555005]