Sydney council slashes Mandarin program days before Lunar New Year
by GRACE JOHNSON
The City of Sydney slashed their weekly Mandarin Rhyme Time, a bilingual program for infants, at the Darling Square Library in Haymarket just days before Chinese New Year celebrations began.
Mandarin Rhyme Time, for 0 to 2 year olds, uses rhyme, movement, music and singing to help develop early literacy skills. Songs and rhymes are sung in both Mandarin and English. Sessions run for 20 minutes.
The discovery was made by Osmond Chiu, father to a young infant, who had been going to the weekly bilingual Rhyme Time last year.
He had been looking online to see when the sessions would restart – they coincide with school terms – when he saw that the sessions had been cut from weekly to monthly.
After inquiring on the City of Sydney’s X, previously Twitter, account, he was told that the changes were based on “community feedback.”
Hi there, we continually assess Early Literacy programs and make changes based on community feedback. Our Green Square Library continues to offer weekly bilingual programs, and we are running Lunar New Year storytime sessions from 5 February. Thanks, City of Sydney.
— City of Sydney (@cityofsydney) January 31, 2024
“Tone deaf and completely disrespectful”
What’s even more disappointing, Chiu told City Hub, is that these cuts were made just before Chinese New Year.
“Cutting rhyme time just before Chinese New Year without any prior warning feels tone deaf and completely disrespectful,” he said.
“Talking up their Chinese New Year celebrations while cutting Chinese language programs makes the Council’s commitment to multiculturalism seem superficial and tokenistic.”
In response to City Hub‘s questions, Lord Mayor Clover Moore AO said, “In my time as Lord Mayor we have invested over $100 million in new and improved libraries that are now a wonderful community resource, with an ever-broadening scope of activities that help build and strengthen a sense of community.”
“They attract people of all ages and backgrounds, providing them with education, fun and an opportunity to meet other people.”
The area has taken a hit over the past few years, she said, being one of the first in the city to be impacted by the pandemic.
Investments in Chinatown
“We are breathing new life into Haymarket and Chinatown with a multi-million-dollar strategy to activate and improve streets and public spaces, shopfronts, parks and lighting,” the mayor continued.
Plans for a $44 million facelift to the area were approved in a council meeting in December, which would see a long-term upgrade of public space, with more trees, seats, lighting and integrated public art, as well as a proposed review of planning controls to support vibrant building signage and renewal of smaller buildings as a point of difference from the city centre.
At the time, the Lord Mayor said, “Haymarket is one of Sydney’s most iconic urban villages and has long been recognised as a focal point for Asian food, cultures, and communities both locally and internationally.”
But with these cuts to the bilingual learning program, Chiu says it “suggests the City of Sydney only sees Chinatown as a tourist gimmick rather than the living and breathing cultural heart of the Chinese community in Sydney.”
Labor Councillor Linda Scott was similarly perplexed by the cuts, particularly before new year celebrations.
“Our City’s diverse communities are devastated to learn, just as Lunar New Year approaches, that the Lord Mayor and City of Sydney have made significant cuts to Mandarin Rhyme Time at our City’s Darling Square Library,” she told City Hub.
“Fostering a love of reading is imperative to the growth and development of young children; something bilingual rhyme times seeks to promote. It is devastating to parents, carers and their children that this is hindered due to the Lord Mayor’s service cuts at Darling Square Library,” she continued.
“With Darling Square a short 3 minute walk to the heart of Chinatown, I simply do not understand why the Lord Mayor and the City of Sydney reduced bilingual library sessions at this location.”
A City of Sydney spokesperson told City Hub, “Attendance at Bilingual Storytime at Darling Square has been declining recently, and at the at the same time increasing at our Green Square branch.”
“Programming was adjusted to reflect changes in demand.”
But the cuts have had a significant impact on bilingual children in the area.
Chiu said, “Rhyme time was one of the few opportunities I had to regularly bond with my son in an accessible and structured bilingual environment.”
“These cuts have just made it that much harder to immerse my son in a bilingual environment,” he said, “and signal that not even the library in Chinatown is safe from cuts to Chinese language programs.”
Originally published February 8, 2024 at 9:44am.
UPDATE: February 8, 10:37am
Following City Hub and community inquiries, City of Sydney has reportedly reinstated weekly session in line with the school term, with a spokesperson claiming that the reduction in sessions never occurred.