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This is a question from Common Mistakes at IELTS Advanced: And How to Avoid Them. In page 9 we have to decide which one is correct:

  1. All children should receive basic education.
  2. All children should receive a basic education.

But I think both can be correct based on the context. I guess the first one is correct because education is uncountable in this context. I think "basic education" is a general concept that should be provided for all children. But the second one is correct if we meant to tell that all children need to receive at least a kind of basic education from a wide range of options available.

So is the question wrong? Because in the answer keys, it says that only the second one is correct.

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There is a difference inferred between 'education' with an article, and without.

'Education' is a very broad term - it could refer to basic, primary education for children, secondary or tertiary education for older children and young adults, or really and kind of structured learning on any topic, at any age and at any time in someone's life.

Usually, referring to "an education" means one's childhood education, however extensive. In places where a basic primary and secondary education is mandatory, saying someone has had "an education" may specifically infer that they have had tertiary (degree level) education.

In the context of your example, where you are specifying children and that the education being spoken of is 'basic', the difference between your two examples is less discernable. But it could be taken that "all children should receive basic education" means some specific learning on a specific subject, whereas "all children should receive an education" means a full, rounded education on a range of subjects.

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  • Thanks, but the answer key of the book tells that we should use "a basic education". Can we say that it is an error? Because as I took from your answer both options could be correct.
    – a.toraby
    Aug 19, 2021 at 9:08
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    @a.toraby Neither are wrong, but "a basic education" better implies a full, rounded childhood education that includes a broad range of subjects. Without the article, it could mean a more limited form of training, although I doubt it would be received as such in the context.
    – Astralbee
    Aug 19, 2021 at 9:20

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