Are the skills of Native English-speaking Teachers in Hong Kong's schools utilised as effectively as they might be? Many Hong Kong parents, the pupils, and indeed the NETs themselves, think not. Despite being among the highest-paid state school teachers in the world, many NETs employed in Hong Kong feel less than satisfied with their job nature. This is reflected in the fairly high turnover rate of NETs and in the fact that the Education Bureau has often been unable to fill every NET position. If you ever meet NETs socially, it is not long before they start moaning about their job. With a package that includes a generous housing allowance and, for some, a monthly salary of upwards of HK$60,000, it can't be the financial terms that are seen as unattractive. So what is the explanation for the serious recruitment and retention problems? It could be the inappropriate work many NETs are tasked with that is a vital factor contributing to their disappointment in their jobs. One cause of this is the absurdly high qualifications of some NETs, who would be well qualified to set up a national curriculum or university department. It is not surprising that such talented and highly skilled people find the routine tasks of a basic schoolteacher uninspiring. It would be the equivalent of having a bank director serve on the counter. Yes, they can do it; but it doesn't satisfy them. They feel that their talents are not best used - and they are right. For that reason, many NETs do not derive much, if any, professional fulfilment from their jobs. If NETs really are to be used as just another teacher of English in a school, then it is surely a mistake to go for the most highly qualified. Not only does that make them the most expensive to employ (salary scales being linked to qualifications and experience), but it also virtually guarantees that they won't like the basic and routine nature of such work. Instead, young and enthusiastic teachers would be preferable as NETs. Any school will have a number of other (local) teachers of English. They are generally well able to handle the daily necessity of teaching grammar, vocabulary development, test preparation and the rest of the general syllabus. It is a misuse of the particular skills of a native speaker of English for a NET to be saddled with just another routine set of English lessons, much the same as a local teacher. The stark reality of the job for many NETs is that they are obliged to address over-large classes of 40, with the use of a microphone, in serried ranks of desks, covering the full range of English skills. Teaching hours are long and the material they are obliged to cover is too often uninspiring. These routine tasks include the dreaded essay marking and many a NET faces with horror each day huge piles of essay scripts to be marked. They regard it as a waste of time and indeed it is. It is especially wasteful to use a NET for such tasks. The particular skill to which I refer is the native-level oral fluency of NETs. The best work to assign these highly paid expatriate teachers to would surely be specially arranged classes to develop the oral fluency of their pupils. That brings us to the thorny issue of class size. Obviously, with 40 students in a class that meets for just 40 minutes only once or twice a week with a NET, each pupil will receive only minimal opportunities to have his or her English pronunciation corrected, or general oral fluency enhanced. By the very nature of oral classes, tutorial-sized groups work best. Thus a standard class would need to be split up in to about three tutorial-sized groups, each of 12 to 15 pupils. A NET concentrating on developing the oral ability of pupils in small groups, meeting several more times each week, would be able to make a real difference. The pupil development that would occur would provide more job satisfaction to the NET. He or she should be free to handle this oral-skills training in any way preferred, with imaginative lessons encouraged. Some would doubtless use drama or speech-making to achieve that. At present, too many NETs are stuck with following a strictly imposed timetable to cover set pages of an English textbook each and every lesson. No wonder many of them feel inhibited, and that their ideas for enjoyable and fruitful lessons remain just that - ideas, mere pipe dreams. The employment of NETs, at great expense to the Hong Kong taxpayer, on routine textbook-style English lessons is a waste of a valuable and scarce resource. It makes as much sense as using a thoroughbred race horse to pull a delivery cart. For the particular skills of future generations of NETs to be best used, the proposals outlined above could help. And NETs could thereby find much greater job satisfaction. More importantly, the next generations of pupils would be able to really benefit fully from the provision of NETs at their schools. It is commonly said in the business world of Hong Kong that spoken English fluency is a weak point of many school-leavers. They may well be much better at writing an essay than they are at speaking English. The same can fairly be said of many local university graduates. But the key point is - no employer is ever going to ask them to write an essay after they join the firm, whereas they might very well need to use spoken English in their after-school lives. It is by assigning more appropriate teaching tasks to NETs that such a situation can be improved. Paul Surtees is a business training consultant and university lecturer.