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The following sentences come from an online English tutorial, so I'm posting them with the assumption that they are grammatically correct.

People have different views about whether parents or schools should bear the responsibility for helping children to become good citizens. In my view, this responsibility should be shared.

On the one hand, parents certainly have a vital role to play in the upbringing of their children.

On the other hand, school teachers may contribute almost as much as parents to the development of a child.

The article is not finished but let's have a look at the third paragraph.

On the other hand, school teachers may contribute almost as much as parents to the development of a child.

Actually, I have two questions at this point.

  1. Why not use "the development of children"? It is obvious that school teachers do not teach only one student. My guess is, it is grammatically correct to use a plural in the sentence but using a singular implies that the teachers teach them one by one?

  2. Why not use "development of a child (or children)" without the article? Because "development" is general in this sense? Is it because it's development of a specific group or a person implying that the development is not for parents, teachers or others, but a child?

  • I think this could be it "Is it because it's development of a specific group or a person implying that the development is not for parents, teachers or others, but a child?". The target is a single child at a time. – Mamta D Mar 24 '15 at 11:39
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  1. When discussing the role of teachers, then you generally are referring to all the children they teach (so plural). Likewise with parents, they have a role in the development of all of their children (plural, because although some may be one child families, you still have to cater for multi-child families).

The switch to the singular occurs, because the writer wants to emphasise the importance on a child-by-child basis. Although each teacher teaches multiple children, and each parental couple may have more than one child, generally a teacher is only teaching one of the couple's children, so one can discuss their roles with respect to this one child.

  1. You cannot drop the article front of "development" in this case. In English you can drop the article when discussing abstract concepts, but here the writer is talking about a particular child's development, thus making it concrete.
  • I'm sorry I came back to you so late. Thank you for the good description. – Eugene Yu Aug 11 '15 at 3:54
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I think this is a matter of style, rather than grammar. Substituting "the development of children" or "development of children" would be correct, but the meaning is a bit more general and vague than using "the development of a child". Specifying the child as the object of the sentence, and using "the" to define the verb "development" emphasizes (or reminds us) that we are talking about helping that person to become a good citizen. If you used "development of children" it is less clear what the point of the sentence is, and less precise so it could refer to other kinds of development.

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You have to use the definite article the here because of the postmodifier of a child that specifies a certain type of development.

As for the singular/plural issue. I think it is because in the text they are referring to the child of a set of parents and want to emphasize that the teacher contributes to the development of each individual child. When a plural is used, you refer to the entire group of children in the school.

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