Mapping literacy in Nigeria

Chris Littleboy


I’m beginning this blog as a way of productively procrastinating and avoiding the task of formatting my PhD thesis. The hope is that it turns into a space for me post short data-driven research into various development issues. This post, for example, has nothing to do with my research which is in agriculture, land rights and agrarian change. But, I found the topic interesting enough to spend a few hours making a map, and couldn’t find any similar analysis elsewhere. So I hope this is interesting and / or useful to any potential readers!

The story behind this post is that I was having an argument with a much better-informed friend regarding the provision of education in Nigeria. My argument was people even in the most rural areas of Nigeria had a much higher level of education than is often implied. Her argument, crudely put, was that public provision of primary education in Nigeria has a lot of room for improvement. I’m an annoying person to argue with because I don’t accept an argument without seeing supporting data, and quite reasonably nobody brings data to social engagements.

When I got home, I looked briefly for information on the regional variation of literacy rates in Nigeria. I couldn’t find anything, so downloaded the data for the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) for Nigeria which was collected in 2016/17. This contains the data of rural and urban areas of each of the 36 states in Nigeria. The questionnaire asks members of the household if they have attended secondary school. If they have, they are assumed literate, and if they have not they are asked to read a short sentence. All those who were able to read the sentence join those who attended secondary school in the group of ‘literate’. Since we have information on the age and gender of each respondent, we can get a sense of literacy rates by age, gender and state.

So, I downloaded the data, selected the variables (literacy, age, gender), weighted the responses, aggregated literacy rates at the state level, downloaded a map for Nigeria, and created this interactive map largely following a procedure found here.

Broadly, it shows that I was wrong. Literacy rates are much lower in the North than in the South, although they are encouragingly much higher for the younger population which shows that things are getting better. I have been to Ondo State in South West Nigeria, where literacy is very high. So the mistake that I made was in assuming that my personal experiences are generalisable despite the presence of more expert opinions!

Happy to answer any questions about the data and code in the comments, though I’d better leave the interpretation to those who know what they’re talking about…